Damn, if we go to war, it could affect my rum!!!!!!!!!

Aged And Growing (Top Story) - Monday 24, February-2003

Project Manager Wallace Edinboro raises his glass as he is acknowledged for his outstanding contribution to the success of Mount Gay.

by Marva Cossy
Even as Mount Gay Rum celebrates 300 years, the Ward family whose name is synonymous with the product says the brand is on a growth curve.

And the future is bright, they say.

However, at least three hurdles stand in the way of what would otherwise seem to be a straightforward future.

With the decline in Barbados sugar output, the local sugar industry has been unable to produce the 55 000 tonnes of molasses needed to meet local demands.

As a result, the island’s refineries, including Mount Gay’s in St Lucy, have had to seek other sources for that critical input. To date, the biggest challenge in that quest has been finding good quality product at a reasonable price.

Compared with local molasses, the price of imports can be higher because of freight charges. Managing director of The Rum Refineries of Mount Gay, Carl Ward said some places such as Africa had a good supply and quantity of molasses but the freighting cost was horrendous.

Globalisation has also brought competition not only while selling their product but while sourcing the raw materials.

The brewing war in Iraq adds a few complex possibilities to the equation. And the Wards are concerned.

“If war comes the refineries might have to close,” managing director of The Rum Refineries of Mount Gay Carl Ward said.

His brother, Elliott Llewellyn Ward said it would be bad news. And Dr. Frank Ward spoke about “the profound effect on supply and prices likely to result from war in the Middle East.”

He said the multiplier effect could see higher commodity prices including those of molasses, that together with all round higher prices could mean higher production costs.

Observing that Mount Gay’s refineries sit in the midst of beautifully towering sugar canes growing in fields owned by the Ward family, an obvious question was whether there wasn’t a way for the company to produce its own input for distilling the alcohol.

That input has to be molasses or sugar cane juice in order to meet the legal definition of rum, which was devised to protect Caribbean rum from competitors who make the product frombeets and other inputs.

To be self sufficient in molasses, the distillery would not pnly require about 1 500 to 2 000 acres but would also require an agreement with the Barbados Agricultural Marketing Corporation (BAMC), which manages the estates.

In addition, it would call for mills and other facilities that are not quickly or easily acquired.

Alcohol can also be made from cane juice but Ward also noted that since cane juice cannot be kept for more than 24 hours taking that route would be a challenge.

The refineries, however, have storage facilities. At the St. Lucy site, they can store enough – 2 000 tonnes or about two months supply and at the holding tanks at the Harbour about 20 000 tonnes.

Despite these issues, the Wards repeated that Mount Gay brand has a positive future. Linked to this view is the rum’s association with internationally-known Remy Cointreau.

Informal history says the rum was made on the St Lucy estates as early as 1663 but is now celebrating only 300 years because the Wards have a legal deed dated February 20, 1703,and that is the earliest verifiable birth date.

In 1989, the Remy Cointreau group acquired a majority interest in Mount Gay Distilleries, at Brandons, St Michael. This gave the brand the chance to benefit from the group’s multinational and extensive distribution network and marketing acumen, as a result it is now sold in about 60 countries.

Since 1997, the rum has grown 59 per cent on the world markets.

In addition, to the smaller interest in the distilleries, the Wards own The Refineries of Mount Gay, located in St Lucy. The latter is expected to benefit from an expansion, which will see an improved visitors’ centre and more warehousing space for rum to age.

Ward said that with improved marketing, demand has and continued to grow and the added facilities were needed to meet present and future growth.

The refineries are also adding a new still which would push capacity from two million litres annually to four million. This is expected to be completed soon.

In addition, some rum is made in pot stills, purposely operated below maximum capacity to achieve the desired quality for the output.

The Wards seem to have the operations under control but many local family businesses even with the right production and financial mix sometimes flounder due to poor successor planning.

“No so with us,” was Carl Ward’s quick answer to the successor question.

Pointing to his older brother Elliott Llewelyn Ward, he said, “He was here (as managing director) from 1983 to 1991and then I took over.”

Looking at Dr Frank Ward, he said, “and when I go he will be here.”

In addition, Carl Ward said that a number of other relatives were interested and involved in the family business and when the time comes successors would be appointed that were willing and capable.

The relatives who hold company shares meet regularly to discuss matters. “We don’t hide anything, we are open to our people” he said.

That approach has helped to fuel interest among them.

“We do have a bright future. Mount Gay has moved away from the image of being only a poor man’s drink and is considered a premium product,” Frank Ward said.

The only fight they have on that platform is the onslaught from some quarters about rum drinking being a negative societal issue.

But the Wards rejoined that doing most things in excess is wrong.

“We don’t sell to minors, we would never condone or support a campaign that promotes excessive drinking,” Carl Ward said.

Frank Ward calls for a balanced approach to the issue, one that takes into account the evil of over consumption and efforts to counteract that, education for example, with the benefit of the rum industry to the community, jobs, earning foreign exchange and the community projects undertaken by spirit producers.