Caribbean rum producers – members of the West Indies Rum & Spirits Producers Association (WIRSPA) – meeting recently, recommitted themselves to focusing on collaborative actions around promoting responsible drinking, and reducing the harmful use of alcohol. This even as their businesses take a hit from the coronavirus pandemic.
The producers, from territories as far south as Suriname and Guyana and north as Belize, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic, normally meet in a member country but due to COVID met virtually. With all member countries participating, the producers shared a common story across domestic markets –the negative impact of COVID on economic activity and employment, on the tourism industry, and the collapse of travel retail (duty-free).
According to the association, despite national variations, the overall picture points to a very difficult year for domestic markets resulting from substantial sales reduction across many territories. In particular the loss of business owing to the virtual closure of the hospitality sector in varying degrees continues to impact on sales.
Re-elected as Chairman of the Grouping was Komal Samaroo, Head of the Guyana conglomerate Demerara Distillers. According to Samaroo, “As producers a core focus of our gathering was to exchange experiences and reflect on the challenges faced by communities through the economic pressures imposed by COVID. Despite the depressed trading environment, we have committed to continuing support by producers through provisions of sanitisation products such as hand sanitiser, and other assistance to communities.”
Samaroo said lockdowns and controls over social gatherings have posed special challenges for individuals, including mental health issues, “As a grouping we recognised early on in 2020 the need to put extra emphasis on the need for responsible consumption, and we’ll be making this a major focus for our grouping going forward.” He added, “Already several brands have changed product labels in this year to feature calorie information and to advise against drinking & driving, underage drinking and drinking in pregnancy – this is the start of a bigger push to seek greater collaboration with stakeholders to reduce excessive drinking.”
On other impacts from the pandemic, WIRSPA CEO Vaughn Renwick commented, “The absence of international travel has severely constrained our ability to visit export markets to promote our brands – many producers have therefore moved to a virtual mode until things settle back down. From the point of view of WIRSPA, we have pivoted to focus on online rum education and training both for our own producers’ staff and the wider hospitality sector – bartenders, mixologists and the like. It’s been an enormously busy year.”
According to Renwick, “The group expects a slow recovery in 2021, especially considering the challenges being experienced in major markets from which we receive visitors – Europe and North America – and the slow recovery of travel and tourism.”