When the founder of Bacardi, Don Facundo Bacardí Massó, purchased the company’s first distillery in Cuba, he found a colony of fruit bats hanging from the rafters. Although others might not have relished the sight of these inhabitants, Facundo saw them as a sign of good fortune, family unity and health — a belief he shared with his homeland, Spain, and the native people of Cuba.

The distillery was founded in 1862, during a time when most people could not read. In order to brand and differentiate the rum, his wife Doña Amalia suggested placing a bat logo on every barrel and bottle. As a result, the product was easily identifiable and became known as “the rum of the bat.”

One hundred and fifty years later, the bat symbol still appears on every bottle of Bacardi rum and is one of the most recognized brand trademarks in the spirits industry, the company says. And the bat’s significance has held true: The Bacardi family still owns the business, which has become the largest privately held spirits company in the world. It also has remained dedicated to innovations.

“Whether it was Don Facundo inventing smooth clear rum in 1862 up through the current day and some of our more recent innovations, I think Bacardi’s always stayed truly flexible and has tried to anticipate consumer needs and lead the way and lead the rum category in terms of new products [and] new ways to consume the product through the classic cocktails in our history,” says Toby Whitmoyer, vice president and brand managing director for Bacardi rum.


Flavor infusions

The company’s flagship rum brand, Bacardi Superior, and its flavored rums comprise the largest volume in the Bacardi portfolio, says Derek Hopkins, senior vice president of sales for Bacardi U.S.A. Inc. Bacardi Superior is the No. 1 rum requested by name in on-premise locations, and Bacardi Limon continues to be the leader in the flavored rum segment, he adds.

According to Chicago-based SymphonyIRI, Bacardi rum was No. 1 in the rum category for the 52 weeks ending Feb. 19, 2012, in U.S. supermarkets, drug stores, gas and convenience stores, and mass merchandise retailers excluding Walmart, club and liquor stores. It also accounts for almost 35 percent market share in the category, the market research firm reports.

Making its debut in 1995, Bacardi Limon was the first flavored rum in the U.S. marketplace, Whitmoyer says. Now, there are 13 varieties in the company’s flavored rum lineup, which includes its infused line that kicked off with Bacardi Dragon Berry several years ago and followed with Bacardi Torched Cherry, Bacardi Rock Coconut and Bacardi Arctic Grape. The two newest flavors to join the portfolio are Bacardi Wolf Berry and Bacardi Black Razz. Launched last month as part of the infused rum lineup, Bacardi Wolf Berry is a blueberry-flavored rum infused with wolf berry, which is a common name for the goji berry from China, he says. Bacardi Black Razz is a raspberry-flavored rum infused with black sapote fruit from Mexico.

“I think our entire infused line … represented a significant innovation within the category,” Whitmoyer says. “These are sort of classic flavor verticals, whether it’s berry, cherry, coconut, etc., and we’re trying to add something to it with this infusion of superfruit. We see Wolf Berry and Black Razz as the latest iterations of that platform, so the inspiration really comes from the successes that we’ve had to date with [the rest of the infused line].”

Providing a market for new flavored rum introductions is the demographic of young, urban, millennial consumers of legal drinking age and older. This group continues to seek variety and is much more experimental than previous generations, he says.

“Building on our legacy of flavor innovation through new expressions of Bacardi flavored rums will fuel additional brand growth,” Hopkins adds.

The new flavored rums also draw attention in on-premise and off-premise locations, including in consumers’ homes, through their packaging. Bacardi Wolf Berry and Bacardi Black Razz bottles utilize cold activation and black light technology. When the bottles are placed in a freezer, the cold activation technology reveals graphics to show that the bottles are cold. Similarly, when the bottles are put under a black light, graphics appear on the package.


Back to the classics

Not long after the creation of Bacardi rum, soldiers fighting in the Cuban War of Independence sparked the launch of a cocktail featuring the rum, according to the company. The Bacardi Cuba Libre is made with Bacardi Gold rum, Coca-Cola and lime. Today, it’s most commonly ordered as a Bacardi and Coke, made with Bacardi Superior rum, the company notes.

In 1898, during the Spanish-American War, the Bacardi Hand-Shaken Daiquiri cocktail was created. And in the 1920’s, the Original Bacardi Mojito was unofficially named the national drink of Cuba, the company says. Before Bacardi, the cocktail was called the Draque and was made with traditional liquor aguardiente alcohol, sugar, lime and mint. Around the same time that Bacardi Superior launched, it replaced aguardiente alcohol in the Draque, turning it into a Bacardi Mojito.

Offering convenience for consumers and capitalizing on the success of classic Bacardi cocktails such as the Bacardi Hand-Shaken Daiquiri and the Original Bacardi Mojito, the company launched a line of ready-to-serve Bacardi Classic Cocktails in Mojito, Raspberry Mojito, Hand-Shaken Strawberry Daiquiri and Piña Colada varieties.

This year, the company optimized the flavors across the entire Classic Cocktails lineup to provide a fresh cocktail taste, Whitmoyer says. Bacardi Classic Cocktails Mojito and Raspberry Mojito feature real mint; Bacardi Classic Cocktails Piña Colada contains coconut water; and Bacardi Classic Cocktails Hand-Shaken Strawberry Daiquiri includes strawberry juice, he says. To communicate these changes, the company introduced updated packaging for the line last month.

“[The cocktails moved] into a slightly different bottle structure and labels that help to highlight the heritage and authenticity of the products, and to highlight the fact that we’ve improved the liquids to get them even closer to real cocktail taste and that they’re made with Bacardi Superior,” Whitmoyer explains.

Additionally, the company launched low-calorie versions of the Mojito and Piña Colada varieties this month. The Bacardi Classic Cocktails Light line features 95 calories in each serving and maintains the authentic taste of the original cocktails through a proprietary process, Whitmoyer says. Responding to consumer demand in the industry for lower-calorie cocktails, Bacardi Classic Cocktails Light are targeted mainly at women ages 30 and older.

But Bacardi’s pre-mixed drinks do not cater only to women. The company’s new ready-to-drink Bacardi+ line is targeted at young male consumers of legal drinking age, Whitmoyer says. Executed in partnership with Leuven, Belgium-based Anheuser-Busch InBev, the first two products in the line are Bacardi+ Torched Cherry + Cola, and Bacardi+ Arctic Grape + Lemon-Lime Soda. The malt-based beverages launched in 16-ounce single-serve cans and 12-packs of 8-ounce cans last month and leverage the company’s infused flavored rums.


The spice of life

Last September, the brand introduced its first spiced rum: Bacardi Oakheart, which has exceeded the company’s goals since its launch, Whitmoyer says.

“The product comes straight from the heart of charred oak barrels, which gives it a more mature taste profile — more balanced, a little less sweet with a slight smoky hint,” he explains. “It’s really a more balanced, finer version of spiced rum.”

To market the rum to consumers, the brand launched the Bacardi Oakheart Challenge, which asks consumers to try the product either on the rocks or with a cola carbonated soft drink. Part of the challenge for the consumer also was to propose a three-word toast that personifies their spirit of adventure and outlook on life. The integrated on-premise and digital competition kicked off in September and offers consumers a chance to win their own branded Bacardi Oakheart stein. As a result, the product has experienced strong consumer and bartender preference for the rum, Whitmoyer says.

“The growth of the spiced rum segment and the recruitment opportunity that presents for the Bacardi brand through Bacardi Oakheart is a significant opportunity,” Hopkins says. “In less than 90 days on the market, Bacardi Oakheart became the fourth largest spiced rum in the United States and we’re excited about the long-term growth potential of Oakheart, and we know our distributor partners and retailers share that excitement.” 

Although the company’s other dark rums make up a smaller portion of the Bacardi portfolio, Bacardi Gold, Bacardi Select, Bacardi Añejo and Bacardi 8 continue to show growth spurred by interest among mixologists and rum aficionados, Hopkins adds.


Looking to the past

The company’s past and present innovations, coupled with family resilience, are the main reasons it was able to remain successful throughout its history, Whitmoyer says. Founded Feb. 4, 1862, in Santiago de Cuba, Bacardi overcame numerous obstacles on its way to becoming one of the top spirits companies in the world, including natural disasters, Prohibition and the Cuban Revolution.

For instance, in 1919, the U.S. Congress passed the Volstead Act forbidding the manufacture, transportation, import, export, sale and consumption of alcohol in the United States. Bacardi had opened an office in New York City just three years prior, forcing the company to deplete 60,000 cases of inventory. Bacardi Executive Enrique Schueg resolved this issue by equating each case of Bacardi rum to a share and selling 60,000 shares as “wet stock” to the public.

Then, it capitalized on Prohibition in the United States by enticing consumers to travel to Havana, Cuba, for fun and cocktails. Because advertising alcohol in the United States during this time was illegal, Bacardi created postcards playing up the bars and nightlife in Cuba. One such postcard read: “Cuba is great. There is a reason. Bacardi.” Production of Bacardi rum increased so much during Prohibition that the company had to build a larger production facility in Santiago de Cuba just to keep up with demand, the company says.

In 1960, Cuban revolutionary forces illegally seized the company’s Cuban assets. However, the company had already moved its trademarks, other intellectual property and its proprietary yeast strain out of Cuba before the seizure, it says.  

“To successfully grow a business against a backdrop of war, earthquakes, epidemics, the Prohibition era, the Cuban Revolution and the illegal confiscation of our Cuban assets is testament to the entrepreneurial spirit that lies at the heart of our family,” said Bacardi Limited Chairman Facundo L. Bacardi in a statement. “Whenever we have been faced with these challenges, our company has demonstrated its ability to adapt, innovate and create even greater success. That remains true today as we celebrate our 150th anniversary as the third largest spirits company in the world.”

As the industry emerges from the recession, Bacardi has once again positioned itself for success.

“Consumers are trading back up and returning to the premium and super-premium brands they know and trust,” Hopkins says. “Our premium portfolio of brands and continued investment and innovation has positioned us for growth as on- and off-premise retailers shift focus from cost back to profit and to carrying the premium brands consumers want and that create the most value.”


Mixing it up

The brand also sees growth opportunities in the mixability of its products and continued cocktail innovation by today’s bartenders, Hopkins says. In fact, mixability became the cornerstone of the brand’s success after a joint advertising venture with The Coca-Cola Co. in the ‘60s. The light green color of the Bacardi Superior bottle was inspired by the hue of Coca-Cola’s glass packaging and was adopted to enhance the business and marketing relationship between the two brands, according to the company. Bacardi’s other associated classic cocktails also helped to encourage mixology.

“On-premise is key to driving trial of new products, new cocktails, generating and maintaining consumer interest in our brands, and driving sales in the off-premise channel,” Hopkins says. “For example, we’ve found when consumers choose their rum by name, Bacardi is the No. 1 brand requested on-premise and that directly correlates to Bacardi being the No. 1 rum purchased at retail and consumed at home.”

To encourage on-premise consumption and innovation, Bacardi is involved in multiple programs to support mixology. Its Global Legacy Cocktail Competition aims to discover the next Bacardi legacy cocktail, Whitmoyer says. This year’s winner was New York City’s Shingo Gokan, who won with his drink “Speak Low” that combines Bacardi Superior rum, Bacardi Solera rum, Osborne Pedro Ximinez sherry, Matcha tea and zest of yuzu fruit. The competition began with 26 international bartenders and was narrowed to eight for the finale in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The company also hosts a Bacardi Belief program that trains bartenders on the company’s history and teaches them how to make tasty cocktails using Bacardi rum, Whitmoyer says. Furthermore, Bacardi sponsors a global online platform called True Originals that provides a space for bartenders and mixologists to learn from each other and share information.


Birthday celebrations

In celebration of its 150th anniversary, the company is hosting global parties throughout 2012. On its official 150th birthday, Feb. 4, the company hosted a consumer-oriented party the night before the Super Bowl in Indianapolis in collaboration with Rolling Stone magazine. The theme of the “Bacardi Bash” was “150 years of rocking the party,” Whitmoyer says.

The U.S. event followed the company’s first 150th birthday party in Germany on Jan. 28 and an event in Canada on Feb. 1. Subsequent parties were held in Europe, Latin America, Asia-Pacific and the Middle East beginning Feb. 4. Bacardi also will partner with celebrities and trendsetters in cities around the world who will host their own events to wish the brand a happy birthday, the company says.

“Certainly for us, one of the core themes of 150 years is for 150 years Bacardi’s been starting amazing parties, and we thought that was really the best way to celebrate,” Whitmoyer says.

In addition to the company’s parties, it launched an advertising campaign in print and out-of-home celebrating some of the iconic parties it has thrown through the years, he says. The ads featured a modern-day depiction of a party in 1957. This summer, the company will launch a fully integrated advertising campaign, the headline of which is “It started with a party,” followed by “Start your party with Bacardi,” Whitmoyer says. The campaign will include on- and off-premise activation, public relations and experiential activations. According to Whitmoyer, the brand already generated more than a billion media impressions around its 150th birthday before April.

On the Bacardi Facebook page, consumers of legal drinking age in select markets have the opportunity to compete for Bacardi 150th birthday party tickets and party kits for hosting their own parties. They also can win or purchase commemorative Bacardi glassware, specialty packs and apparel featuring vintage brand advertisements and/or designs by artists of Cuban heritage. Bacardi will continue to expand its advertising campaign, public relations outreach and consumer activations celebrating this milestone throughout the year, Whitmoyer says.

Furthermore, eight Bacardi family members and Maestros de Ron, or master blenders, combined their expertise to create a limited-edition Ron Bacardi de Maestros de Ron, Vintage, MMXII rum. The vintage rum blends some of the finest rums distilled in oak barrels during the last 20 years and is finished in 60-year-old cognac barrels. The rum blend is bottled in hand-blown 500-ml. crystal decanters housed in leather cases that retail for $2,000 each. Only 400 decanters are available for purchase at select international airports and premium international retailers.

 With its advertising, social media, vintage rum and other birthday-related celebrations, Bacardi continues to communicate the legacy behind the brand. Signified by the Bacardi bat a century and a half ago, the family-owned company looks forward to further good fortune in the next 150 years.