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Wray & Nephew resurrects Edwin Charley

Rum maker J. Wray & Nephew Limited, JWN, says it has produced enough supply to meet the spike in Christmas demand for the local market but will resurrect one of its dormant brands, Edwin Charley, for the hotel trade.

The company says it has enough supplies on hand to meet local needs, even if retail demand were to spike by 50 per cent above normal levels, during the Christmas season.

It means that last year’s supply constraints in relation to Red Label Wine especially, but also white rum, should not recur, according to JWN Senior Commercial Director Cecil Smith Jr.

“We are not expecting any demand that we cannot meet. We have ramped up our supplies to respond to any short-term spikes. We can accommodate increased demand up to 1.5 times regular demand during the holiday season,” Smith said in an interview with the Financial Gleaner.

“Red Label is now everywhere. We are learning from our shortcomings and bringing in packaging earlier this year,” he said.

White rum remains the leading product in the market “by a long shot”, and if liquor stores and bars find themselves running short on supplies, they should consider changing or expanding their suppliers and distributors, the commercial director said.

He explained that JWN – producer of top rum brands Wray & Nephew and Appleton Estate – partners with a series of independent large and small distributors who, in turn, supply sections of the retail trade.

But as for the hotels that are also large buyers of the brands, there were early concerns at the close of summer that the hospitality market might not be able to access the amount of spirits supplies needed for their recovering businesses during the peak Christmas season.

The travel market, which is a barometer for the hotel trade, is cavorting at or near pre-pandemic levels. For instance, the busy tourist airport at Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay recorded an eight per cent increase in passenger volumes for the month of November relative to the 2019 pre-pandemic period, which translated to some 376,000 people.

With tourism businesses on the mend, in September, hoteliers and major food and beverage operators met to ascertain whether their major suppliers could satisfy the rising demand. Smith said the meeting resulted in an agreement to disclose month-by-month projections of supplies and that JWN guaranteed supplies for the sector.

“By guarantee, I mean ramping up our production to ensure that we can meet that future demand and/or introduce new SKUs

to allow you to have premium liquid to pour,” said Smith. “We will be reintroducing Edwin Charley gold rum in a matter of days. It will be a hotel exclusive to ensure as the stopover arrivals increase that we have a premium product that will be in supply to meet the needs of their guests,” he added.

Edwin Charley went largely dormant in the 1990s, nearly a century after it was first placed on the market. As the story goes, Charley, a rum merchant, moved to Jamaica from British Colombia in Canada in the late 1890s and set up a liquor store in the 1900s. He started making his own rum to sell after indicating that local rums were too harsh.

Charley sold out later in life to Fred Myers & Sons, and the brand was eventually acquired by JWN. Bottles of aged Edwin Charley bottled over 20 years ago are being sold on auction for hundreds of US dollars.

“Having sat with the hoteliers and understanding first-hand the demand projections, and whether we could meet it with one or two brands, we mutually agreed that it was necessary to resurrect a trademark like Edwin Charley and provide additional liquid to meet this demand,” said Smith.

Companies in the spirits and beverage market have been facing shortages of bottles and caps since the pandemic, amid the supply-chain disruptions that flowed from the crisis.

The JWN commercial director rejected suggestions that JWN was reintroducing Edwin Charley as a means of offering a product that requires a lesser time frame to develop in the rum-ageing process than its core Appleton aged rums.

“What’s driving the shortage is not only liquid It is the components such as the labels and the caps. So if you look at the Edwin Charley packaging, it is more streamlined and not as illustrious as an Appleton Estate,” said Smith, explaining that glass and caps for the packaging of the rum remain in staggered supply.

“When your glass or cap supplier says I have a constraint that will impact the amount of liquid you can sell, but if you decide in this case to launch a new brand in a different glass, which has less constraints, then it allows you to deliver the same amount of liquid with different packaging,” he said, regarding the rationale to revive Edwin Charley.

“Appleton Estate is our flagship brand for the hotel trade. We do not want to have to have the curvy bottle today and have a different bottle tomorrow. That would send the wrong signal to consumers. Rather than do that with Appleton we said that we will supply what the glass constraint allows us to do and then we will take some of that liquid, blend it differently,, and introduce one of our trademarks, Edwin Charley, in different packaging where there is less constraint so that we can meet the needs especially in the hotel community where there is a historic boom,” he said.

J. Wray & Nephew, which was acquired a decade ago by Campari Group of Italy, is also the market leader in spirits. The company operates Appleton Estate, which is considered the oldest continuous operating rum distillery in Jamaica. Its competitor, Worthy Park Estate, was established prior to Appleton but ceased distilling at one point before getting back into the production of rum in recent years.

Sales for rum and other spirits sold by Wray & Nephew grew 39 per cent in the Jamaican market over nine months to September, driven by the Campari brand as well as Appleton Estate and Wray & Nephew Overproof rums, according to disclosures by Campari Group. Over the nine months, total sales in Jamaica amounted to EUR104 million, or about $16.8 billion.

For JWN, white rum “far outsells” any other rums in its portfolio, Smith said.

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