History was created on Wednesday 21st June, when Caribbean Rum producers elected a woman to lead their organisation. In the 50-year history of the West Indies Rum and Spirits Producers Association (WIRSPA) this is also the first time that it will be led by a member of the Organisation of the Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
The new head, who was elected at a recent meeting in Guyana, is Margaret Monplaisir, a 37-year veteran of the rum industry and the current Head of St. Lucia Distillers. She has been a member of the WIRSPA Board of Directors for a number of years.
WIRSPA members, who comprise all the countries of CARICOM and the Dominican Republic, met under the chairmanship of outgoing Chair Komal Samaroo, head of Guyana conglomerate Demerara Distillers to discuss a range of issues of importance to producers. “This is our first physical meeting since the Covid pandemic”, stated Samaroo, “We are pleased to host it in Guyana, in the year of the 50th anniversary of CARICOM, and to celebrate 50 years of WIRSPA”.
As the global rum market, especially in the premium sector, is growing fast, Caribbean brands are also keen to explore new markets. One of the highlights of the meeting was an exchange with the CARICOM Assistant Secretary General (ASG) for Single Market and Trade, Ambassador Wayne McCook, in which producers called on CARICOM to facilitate openings in new markets for premium rum exports.
On this matter the new Chair added “The region is poised to realise the opportunities presented by new non-traditional markets, and has the quality products, packaging and production capacity to take advantage of the rapid growth in premium spirits demand in these emerging markets.”
Celebrating 50 years as the region’s foremost private sector body, WIRSPA welcomed the response from the regional Caricom Secretariat to its call for new markets and exchanged views on other trade issues, including the continued availability of quality glass packaging at competitive prices.
According to Mr. Samaroo, the outgoing Chair, “We have always enjoyed a productive and cordial relationship with Secretariat officials, and this engagement cemented that. It complements our close collaboration with our governments to ensure the continued growth of this very important industry, for some time now, the number one non-mineral export earner for the region”.
A key agenda item for producers was the effort to strengthen action to reduce excessive alcohol use by consumers, mindful of the negative effects of over-consumption., “We have already made great progress over the past few years to improve labelling and most of our products now carry advice against drinking under the legal age, drinking while pregnant, and drinking while driving, as well as information on servings and calories” stated the incoming Chair Ms Monplaisir.
“But we need to go further”, she added. “We also agreed to ramp up our efforts to implement practical measures to reduce access by underage persons to alcohol and to support government efforts around reducing drinking and driving. We have the resources and the commitment to make a difference and we intend to do so.”
In addition to these two key areas, producers also discussed ongoing challenges to the industry – especially in their supply chain, with specific reference to the sourcing of raw materials like molasses and glass bottles. Beyond that, producers are also responding to climate change considerations, looking at ways to reduce their carbon footprint, a developing area that is also becoming a concern for consumers.
Also elected at the meeting, was Clement “Jimmy” Lawrence, head of the Jamaica rum producers. He will serve as Vice-Chair of WIRSPA, and will join St. Lucia, Guyana, Barbados and the Dominican Republic – the other members of the Executive Committee of WIRSPA.
The Board also welcomed three new directors into the fold, Antoine Couvreur of Mount Gay Distilleries in Barbados, Graham Williams of Renegade Rum in Grenada, and Perla Perdomo of Travellers Liquors of Belize. A warm welcome was also extended to Laurent Schun, new head of Angostura, to his first WIRSPA meeting upon assuming the leadership role at the Trinidad company.