RUMMING UP BUSINESS

Jamaica 2018 | AGRIFOOD & INDUSTRY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Winston Harrison, CEO of National Rums of Jamaica (NRJ), on its iconic distilleries, changes in strategy, and opportunities for the sector.

Winston Harrison
BIOGRAPHY
Winston Harrison joined NRJ in 2017 as CEO. He sits on the boards of Spirit Pools Association Limited and Caribbean Molasses Company Limited. Prior to joining NRJ, Harrison worked with the Seprod Group as the General Manager for Industrial Sales Limited and as Group Trade Marketing Manager. In the last 35 years, he has worked in banking, finance, stockbroking, beverage manufacturing and distribution, telecommunications, and IT. He holds a bachelor of science degree in accounting with economics (Hons.) from the University of the West Indies and an MBA in finance from the University of Manchester, UK.

NRJ owns iconic distilleries in Jamaica; how do you plan to leverage these assets?

NRJ is comprised of the Long Pond Distillery, the Clarendon Distillery, and Innswood Distillers Limited. Among those three facilities, we make some of the finest rums, for which we have won several awards. The rum fermentation process is unique and cannot be replicated due to the local environment and many other indigenous properties such as yeast, water, wood, and materials, so we are unique in each facility. We produce some of the finest and most exotic rums in this hemisphere and recently started a more precise marketing drive in Europe and Canada, and are working to establish ourselves in the US. We are also in conversations with potential customers in the Caribbean, Latin America, and China. Bulk rum represents around 90% of our business, and we produce rum and ship the product in containers to other major distilleries, where it is re-blended and bottled. We are in the process of moving our business more in that direction to capture a piece of that higher-value market.

What changes in strategy are you implementing as the head of NRJ?

Part of my mandate is to take us along the branded route in a more substantial way, widening our footprint in Jamaica and internationally. We want to prove to our customers that we also have an excellent finished product they can enjoy. We have five expressions: top-of-the-line Special Reserve, Classic Gold rum, Special Gold rum, White Overproof rum, and Whispering Breeze. We also have aged stock up to 15 years old, as markets are changing and people place great value in aged premium rum. The idea is to expand even further and create more blends. One of our major achievements in 2017 was the re-opening of the Long Pond distillery after a four-year closure; in the Clarendon distillery, we can process 12 million liters per annum whilst in Long Pond we can produce 1 million liters of alcohol per annum. We have worked hard with the regulators and stakeholders to ensure that the Long Pond distillery could be re-opened in July, and it has allowed us to re-engage customers in Germany and other parts of the world.

What are the challenges and opportunities of producing rum in Jamaica?

One major challenge is the issue of authenticity; companies place a little rum in a final product and claim it is from Jamaica. We are a part of the Spirits Pool Association and the West Indies Rum and Spirits Producers Organization, and they assist in classifying what is called rum from all perspectives, including a geographic value indicator. Rum has evolved into a real industry, and certain rules and regulations have to be placed around the industry to protect it. Jamaican rums are sought after in international markets, and there is an opportunity as a country to establish ourselves in a more macroeconomic way, enlisting government support in terms of simplifying tariffs, duty structure, and how rum is dealt with in general. We do not sell much of our products locally because we are only 3 million people. There are several billion consumers across the globe, and that is the market we should be looking at, rather than focusing on the local market.

What are your goals and objectives for the coming year?

If I can achieve an increase in our branded rum business from 10 to 20%, then half of my job is done, because it is a higher value chain. That is one of our main goals for the coming year. Currently, we outsource our bottling, and the plan is for us to do that in-house in a few years' time when we reach the right critical mass. That would mean an expansion and hiring more staff. We as a team need our excellence to permeate every aspect of our business, and we encourage that sentiment in the company.