THE Caribbean rum industry has been moving higher up the global value chain in years past; however, the effects on the entertainment and hospitality industries, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, has hit the regional rum industry hard.

Executive Chairman of the West Indies Rum and Spirits Producers Association (WIRSPA) and Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL), Komal Samaroo, has stated that the only way Caribbean rum and spirits will now return to noteworthy recognition is through “massive re-investment” in marketing.

Since the emergence of COVID-19 in the Caribbean Region, almost simultaneously through imported cases, Caribbean rum producers, in many countries, have taken on the role of supplying alcohol for sanitation purposes.

On the local front, DDL has donated over 12,000 litres of alcohol-based sanitizing cleaners to senior citizens’ homes, orphanages, night shelters, prisons and other facilities.

“If ever there was a need to make a case for the rum industry, COIVD has done that, because, within days of the outbreak of COVID, rum producers across the Caribbean, re-oriented their production to produce high-strength alcohol to be used as sanitisers in an effort to meet an urgent need that arose in society,” Samaroo said on Saturday, while a guest on a virtual town hall meeting of the Guyanese American Chamber of Commerce (GACC).

WIRSPA member producers have been reaching out to health ministries and other government agencies to support their alcohol requirements for sanitation, the best protection against the virus.

Samaroo said that if the Region did not have a distilleries industry, he believes that it would have been much worse off. Even so, the rum industry is still being largely affected at the moment as its main export markets — entertainment and hospitality — have collapsed.

In global terms, he explained that Caribbean brands are relatively small, and, when markets crash, retailers begin to rationalize the type of brands they stock on their shelves.

He explained: “Generally, in a contracting market situation, it is the mainstay brands that get the attention. The small, the niche brands, the high-value brands are the ones that suffer.”

The Executive Chairman put forward that rum is probably the highest-valued product that comes out of the agriculture sector in the Caribbean Region. WIRSPA has been working to build the reputation of rums produced in the Region so that all members can benefit from an expanded market.

Post-COVID-19, Samaroo expects that much effort will have to be invested in regaining the strides made and finding new solutions to such unexpected challenges.

“So, I do believe that, at the end of this entire experience, there will be the need to be a massive re-investment in marketing activity by the Caribbean rum industry to reclaim some of the space that is presently occupied. This is a major challenge, because our industry, historically, has been one of supplying bulk, and it is in the last 10-15 years that we’ve been pioneering brands, moving higher up the value chain,” he said.