Bacardi retries spice-rum brand

Bacardi is on a mission to commandeer the spiced-rum market from the Captain.

The Coral Gables, Fla.-based leader in rum is taking another stab at selling a spiced rum with the introduction of Bacardi Oakheart, hitting store shelves in September.

The first spiced rum from Bacardi didn't last long. Called Bacardi Spice, it was only on shelves for two years before it was discontinued in 1998. "To be honest, we weren't completely satisfied with the liquid, and we thought we could do a much better job," said Bacardi spokesman Joe Gerbino.

Others agreed. Bacardi Spice was "a miserable failure," according to Harmeet Aurora, general manager of Fine Spirits Wines & Liquors in Cooper City, Fla. But, he said, Oakheart was vastly different. "I got to taste it the other day, and I was impressed."

Bacardi leads sales in the traditional-rum category with 55 percent of the market, according to Nielsen rankings. Bacardi is second in flavored rums, with Malibu making up 39 percent.

"Rum continues to be a real contender, the way tequila was a few years ago," said beverage consultant Tom Pirko, president of California-based Bevmark. "We're now in a period where a lot more people are trying rum."

In spiced rums, Captain Morgan has a leg up on the competition, taking 71 percent of the market

Like its peers in the spice category, Oakheart's tattered and charred labeling plays tribute to the romantic, adventurous associations of the Golden Age of Piracy, but you won't be seeing any actual pirates, captains, admirals or other seafaring crew in the marketing. Toby Whitmoyer, Bacardi's vice president and brand managing director said the campaign will focus on taking "the Oakheart challenge."

"We're really challenging people to try this amazing liquid and to engage in the brand and what it stands for," Whitmoyer said, adding that it was designed to be taken straight or with cola.

Oakheart has been a project in the making for more than four years. Those in the industry say Bacardi will have no problem pillaging a piece of the market away from leaders in the premium price range. Oakheart retails at $12.99 for 750 ml.

"They better man their cannons," Pirko said. "It's going to be a real fight."

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