Pernod prepares to take Cuban-made rum to the United States

Tue May 19, 2015 10:07am EDT
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By Elizabeth Pineau and Dominique Vidalon

HAVANA/PARIS (Reuters) - French drinks giant Pernod Ricard (PERP.PA: Quote) is poised to sell its Cuban-made rum in the United States once a 53-year-old trade embargo is lifted, going head-to-head with Cuban-founded Bacardi which dominates the world's biggest market.

Pernod's Havana Club will have to change its name to "Havanista" for U.S. customers, because Bacardi International, now Bermuda-based after its founders fled the communist island in the 1960s, has the U.S. rights to the "Havana Club" name.

But it is aiming more widely than the niche market made up mainly of Cuban communities based in Florida, 90 miles (145 km) from their homeland, who drink the Havana Club made by Bacardi in the U.S. Caribbean territory Puerto Rico.

"If the embargo is lifted, we could gain access to an enormous market and a substantial growth booster for the coming years," Jerome Cottin-Bizonne, CEO of Pernod Ricard's Havana Club, told Reuters at the San Jose de las Lajas distillery, where Havana Club is made in ageing cellars under a joint venture between Pernod and state-owned company Cuba Ron.

It is unclear when that might happen, but the company is beginning to benefit in a small way as relations between U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro warm.

American visitors to Cuba can now take home up to $100 worth of cigars and alcohol and Pernod-Ricard's CEO joined the delegation for the first official visit by a French president to Cuba last week.

The company invested $100 million last year in the distillery, which employs 550 people and now sells 50 million bottles, or 4 million cases, per year, ten times more than in 1993. Most go for export, thanks to the growing popularity of cocktails like Mojitos and Daiquiris.

Cottin-Bizonne said the U.S market could potentially bring Havana Club extra sales of 20 million bottles per year.   Continued...

A Havana Club rum bottle is displayed at a cellar of the Havana Club Distillery in San Jose de las Lajas, Cuba, May 12, 2015. Picture taken May 12, 2015. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini