Rum is tak­ing over where gin left off – it’s the “next big thing”, ac­cord­ing to James Copeland. How­ever, tim­ing plays a big part in suc­cess. “On the one hand, I was lucky to launch Copeland Rum at the be­gin­ning of 2018, be­cause the mar­ket’s re­cep­tive to it. Con­sumers are ex­cited by new prod­ucts – which means it’s been rel­a­tively easy to in­vite peo­ple to try the prod­uct,” he says.

He also be­lieves that launch­ing the rum at a qui­eter time gave him an op­por­tu­nity to bed down dis­tri­bu­tion and build re­la­tion­ships with in­flu­en­tial in­dus­try play­ers, a strat­egy which has been key to build­ing the brand. It’s not just about let­ting peo­ple try the prod­uct: it’s also about play­ing a role in the de­vel­op­ment of the cat­e­gory – by ex­per­i­ment­ing with cock­tail recipes, for ex­am­ple – so that peo­ple come to see rum as some­thing more than just a cheap spirit to pour into their Coke.

It took Copeland 18 months to un­tan­gle bu­reau­cracy re­gard­ing his prod­uct. “The in­dus­try isn’t re­ally geared for small pro­duc­ers. Most of the reg­u­la­tions im­posed by SARS and the Liquor Board are for peo­ple pro­duc­ing larger quan­ti­ties and their in­abil­ity to deal with smaller en­trepreneurs slows things down.”

These pro­cesses also make pro­duc­tion costly. Con­sumers may balk at the price of craft spir­its, but they don’t re­alise that the pro­ducer re­ceives only a very small per­cent­age of this af­ter pay­ing for es­sen­tials like liquor li­cences, ex­cise du­ties, pack­ag­ing and mar­ket­ing, as well as in­gre­di­ents.

That said, the bat­tle’s been worth it, says Copeland. A full-time mu­si­cian, he wanted some­thing to leave his chil­dren, be­sides a love of mu­sic.

The next step is the in­tro­duc­tion of aged and spiced va­ri­eties, which will be launched once a big mar­ket­ing push dur­ing the sum­mer “drink­ing sea­son” later this year helps en­trench Copeland Rum as a lo­cal favourite.

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