No matter how crowded the spirits market is there is always room for true innovation to find its place on the back bar. Which is what the founders of Aluna Coconut rum hope they have achieved with what they claim is one of the first authentic, all-natural toasted coconut blended rums, in this case sourced from Guatemala and the Caribbean. The Buyer catches up with one of the brains behind the new rum, Guy Ritchie, who explains why he thinks this can be a new breakthrough brand.
Aluna Coconut rum is the latest brand of the creative product line of Cloudbreak Spirits made up of Heather Graham (formerly William Grant and Pernod Ricard), Guy Ritchie (Kraken) and Emma Wykes (Black Cow vodka).
Tell us the background to the brand?
Three friends who’d been part of the innovation and growth of drinks brands such as Hendricks, Kraken, Sailor Jerry, Reyka, set out to create something of their own. After a year of tastings, experimentation and good times Aluna Coconut was launched in the summer of 2017.
Why a coconut rum?
At a time when coconut products are in demand more than ever and rum is growing in popularity, it seemed strange to us that there wasn’t a premium quality coconut rum that celebrated the true flavour of coconut rather than hiding it behind a wall of sugar.
Is there any actual evidence or consumer research that shows coconut is a flavour that people want in their rum?
After years of being exposed to synthetic, sugary coconut flavours, one of the biggest challenges we found was re-introducing people to reconsider coconut rum. We only use all-natural coconut flavours and pure coconut water and were confident that people would see a massive difference. We sampled Aluna with over 20,000 people in 2017/18 at festivals and shows across the UK and got an awesome response for what we were trying to do. Gold medals at The World Rum Awards and The Spirits Business Rum Masters confirmed we were on the right track.
Why did you choose Guatemala and the Caribbean as your key source areas?
We wanted the rum to be smooth and balanced with enough rum character for purists but for coconut to lead the experience. Classic Caribbean rums form the backbone of the blend, which we then combine with lightly aged rum from Guatemala. This is made from first press sugar cane fermented with yeast from the pineapple plant to give a subtle natural sweetness. We add sustainably sourced pure coconut water when we cut to bottling strength and this softens the mouthfeel and extends the coconut flavour.
How are you promoting and introducing the brand to the trade?
Our first bottle went to Dan Priseman (ex-Nola) at Stillwater in Wandsworth Common, south London. He produced an incredible Pina Colada Old Fashioned with it which remains on their menu today. It is representative of how Aluna allows quality bars to re-discover coconut rum and make new, exciting cocktails with it without fear that the sugar content will dominate the flavour. As the saying goes ‘you can put the sugar in, but you cant take it out’.
The rum is also vegan and gluten free…is this really a factor in what spirits people buy?
Although we didn’t set out to create a vegan brand, Aluna is 100% vegan and gluten free and we’ve taken Aluna to several vegan shows over the last year. The response has been great because not only is there an existing demand for coconut products at the shows, they are also increasingly being visited by a new generation of people who are inquisitive, mindful and looking for new flavour experiences. According to The Economist, 2019 will be ‘The year of the vegan’ and we are very happy to be included within this thriving movement.
What would be a target customer in terms of outlet and bar for Aluna?
Aluna is now stocked in a great mix of bars and restaurants across the country. We are in all Revolucion De Cuba outlets and featured in their healthier cocktail list at the start of the year (kale and coconut anyone – who knew?!) and independents from Cornwall to Edinburgh. We are also in many restaurants and will be at all eight of Tom Kerridge’s Pub In The Park events that are travelling around the country this year. Next time you are in Cornwall nip into Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Cornwall for an Aluna hot chocolate after your swim in Watergate Bay.
What other brands or products do you want to bring to the market?
Making Aluna available to more people is our focus right now. Gaining a national listing in Waitrose at the start of the year was important to us and we will be looking to support this with sampling and targeted events across the country. We have some thoughts on a couple of new products we’d like to bring out to complement Aluna but nothing to share yet.
You are working with spirits specialists Mangrove – why did you decide to go with them?
Mangrove have a great track record of helping new products to establish themselves in the UK. Their portfolio lacked a coconut rum and the response from their sales team has been great. We are also opening up some export markets this year with Hong Kong already up and running.
What else do you think is going to be hip and happening in spirits this year?
The spirits category has never been more dynamic. From traditional categories to non-alcs innovation is raising standards and flushing out the rubbish. Consumers are getting better choices as bars, restaurants and retail are all upping their game. It’s a great time to be a part of it.