Düsseldorf When the bars slowly reopened after the first lockdown, the 2500 Bacardi employees in Europe served 10,000 drinks: three people each were invited to bars for cocktails at company expense.
Nicolas Rampf, Bacardi boss in German-speaking countries, invited his friends to a “Boilerman” in the port of Hamburg. “A cool bar where I prefer to drink fruity cocktails like Bacardi Daiquiri.” With the “Back to the Bar” campaign, the world’s largest family-owned spirits manufacturer wanted to revive the bar scene.
But clubs and bars have long been in the second lockdown. Even if gastronomy only accounts for 20 percent of Bacardi’s sales in this country, the closings affect the manufacturers of brands such as Bacardi Rum, Bombay Sapphire Gin, Gray Goose Vodka, Patron Tequila and Martini. “In bars, people can try new drinks. For us, gastronomy is and will remain an important channel for building our brands, ”emphasizes the 39-year-old from Flensburg.
Bacardi also wants to help ailing bars in the lockdown and has therefore started the Europe-wide online portal “Bring the Bar Home”. There bar owners will find everything they need to set up a delivery or collection service. Restaurateurs get free software to design and print their own cocktail labels, recipes and help with marketing via social media. “It’s free for the bars. And ultimately we also benefit from it, even after the pandemic, ”says Rampf.
Bacardi has weathered a number of crises, wars and earthquakes since it was founded 158 years ago. In 1862 the Spanish emigrant and merchant Facundo Bacardi Masso bought a small rum distillery in Cuba and started a spirits revolution. He made rum, at that time a barely edible fire water, socially acceptable. From two distillates, which he filtered with charcoal, he created a fine, clear rum that was suitable for mixing.
“Facundo Bacardi thus laid the foundation for the cocktail culture. That was a major technological advance back then, ”says Rampf. Bacardi’s wife Amalia, who discovered bats in the roof of the distillery, developed one of the oldest brand logos in the world. The black bat was considered a lucky charm and has been emblazoned on every bottle for 158 years.
Dispute in the Bacardi clan
The most famous cocktail, the Cuba Libre, was created after the liberation of Cuba from the Spanish colonial rulers. US soldiers and Cuban freedom fighters mixed cola with Bacardi and toasted free Cuba in 1900. At the time of American prohibition in the 1920s, Ernest Hemingway and Hollywood stars in Cuba enjoyed the Caribbean ease with Bacardi cocktails.
But after the overthrow by Fidel Castro, the Bacardi family was expropriated in 1960. She fled into exile. Her company survived because it already had plants in Mexico, Puerto Rico, the United States, and Spain. Today the headquarters are in Bermuda. The company is silent about global sales, the “food newspaper” estimates it at more than four billion dollars.
The portfolio grew to around 200 brands through acquisitions. In 2018, Bacardi completely took over the tequila manufacturer Patron Spirits, which was then valued at 5.1 billion dollars. Europe is Bacardi’s second largest market. Around 7,000 people are employed worldwide. They call themselves “Primos”, Spanish for “cousins”.
Facundo Bacardi, a direct descendant of the founder, is active as chairman – in the eighth generation. There are about 400 living members of the Bacardi family. A handful of them work in the company. Once a year the descendants from all over the world meet and find out about the business.
But as in many far-reaching business families, there is also a dispute with Bacardis. Monika and Maria Louisa, widow and daughter of the great-grandson of the company founder, feel they are being booted out and deprived of dividends by trustees in the Bastille Trust, a kind of family foundation in Liechtenstein.
They reject the allegations against the Handelsblatt as “completely untrue and defamatory” and have obtained an injunction against it in court. The company does not want to comment on family matters.
Premium brands benefit in the crisis
In 2018, Bacardi closed its only bottling plant in Germany. The company sells most of its spirits in stores in Germany. “The pandemic gave e-commerce a boost. We have invested a lot there, and it will become an important pillar, ”says Rampf, who previously worked as a marketing manager at L’Oréal.
In the long term, Bacardi’s e-commerce is expected to generate twelve percent of sales. According to the 2019/20 annual financial statements (until March), net sales were 122 million euros, an increase of around four percent.
Significantly more premium products are being ordered online. Variants that cannot be found on retail shelves also sell well there. “In addition, we are now getting data about our customers that we didn’t know personally before. We can now communicate with them directly via social media, ”Rampf explains the advantages. 30 percent of sales flow into advertising anyway.
The manufacturer makes a third of the business in the Christmas quarter. “Spirits are becoming more important in times of corona,” says Rampf. “Germans want to celebrate in their own four walls after a year that was somehow screwed up.” In the pandemic, consumers are turning to tried and tested brands.
Angelika Wiesgen-Pick, Managing Director of the Federal Association of the German Spirits Industry (BSI), confirms this: “In fact, there are trends in the spirits industry towards well-known German brands, premium products, imported products, but also craftsmanship.” With 720 million 0.7 liter bottles, the German spirits market shrank slightly in 2019 by around 1.5 percent compared to the previous year. It is also the largest market for spirits in the EU.
In 2019, every German drank an average of 5.3 liters of spirits. Manufacturers and importers made around 4.7 billion euros in sales in 2019 – including around 2.1 billion euros in alcohol taxes.
Bacardi’s bestseller is the “Carta Blanca”. Besides rum, Gin is Bacardi’s second mainstay with the premium brand “Bombay Sapphire”. With gin and martini, fruity variants are trendy. The new Bombay Bramble, for example, is made from a natural fruit infusion of ripe blackberries and raspberries.
Customers can now mix cocktails at home. All you need to do is add water and ice to the so-called “twistail” capsules and shake them.
Bacardi recently started offering non-alcoholic beverages, following the zeitgeist. “It was technologically very complex to develop aperitifs like Martini Vibrante or Floreale without alcohol,” explains Rampf.
The category of spirits with little or no alcohol or “Mindful Drinking” is still small in this country with sales of one million euros. But it will increase tenfold over the next five years. “Because it is primarily the digital natives who like to enjoy cocktails without alcohol.”
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