Caribbean Rum Producers Continue to Encourage Responsible Drinking

Members of the West Indies Rum & Spirits Producers Association (WIRSPA) met recently and recommitted themselves to focussing on collaborative actions to encourage and promote responsible drinking and reducing the harmful use of alcohol. The Caribbean Rum Producers made this commitment despite their businesses suffering heavy losses due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The producers, from as far south as Suriname and Guyana and north as Belize, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, normally meet in a member country, but this year, met virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions. 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).

Raphael Grisoni, head of Mount Gay Distilleries and a WIRSPA director stated, “The overall picture points to a very difficult year for Caribbean and local markets resulting from substantial sales reduction across many territories. In particular, the loss of business owing to the severe contraction of the hospitality sector and the loss of a tourist season will impact heavily on sales.” He added, “We expect a gradual recovery through 2021, especially considering the challenges still being experienced with the virus in the markets from which we draw most visitors – Europe and North America – and the slow recovery of travel and tourism.” Nonetheless, he said, “I’m pleased to report that our exports have broadly held up, especially in North America.

According to Grisoni, lockdowns and controls over social gatherings have posed special challenges for individuals, including mental health issues, “As WIRSPA, we recognised early in 2020 that it was necessary 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, "<em>Already several brands have changed product labels this year to feature calorie information and to advise against drinking while driving, underage drinking and drinking during pregnancy - this is the start of a bigger push to seek greater collaboration with stakeholders to reduce excessive drinking</em>."

He added, “Already several brands have changed product labels this year to feature calorie information and to advise against drinking while driving, underage drinking and drinking during pregnancy – this is the start of a bigger push to seek greater collaboration with stakeholders to reduce excessive drinking.”

At the meeting, Komal Samaroo – Head of the Guyana conglomerate Demerara Distillers was re-elected as Chairman of the Grouping. , 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 the provision of sanitisation products such as hand sanitiser, and other assistance to communities.”

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 a 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.”

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