CubaNews / October 2002
By Larry Luxner
HAVANA -- Despite their ongoing legal battle with Bacardi, the makers of Cuba’s famous Havana Club rum are sending a clear message that they’re eager to do business with U.S. firms.
During last month’s U.S. Food & Agribusiness Exhibition at Havana’s Pabexpo convention center, a distribution contract —- the first ever involving Havana Club and a U.S. company — was signed between Cuban food import agency Alimport and Splash Tropical Drinks of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
The deal calls for Splash to supply piña colada and daiquiri concentrate mixes to a unit of Alimport; the product will be promoted along with Havana Club rum throughout the island’s hotels and resorts.
“We’re working on a co-marketing concept with Havana Club,” explained Richard N. Waltzer, president of Splash. “They’re going to market Havana Club rum with our American product and we, in turn, are going to work together to develop our sales and help Havana Club sell more rum.”
He adds: “I’m targeting the tourist industry with these products. The average Cuban isn’t drinking piña coladas at home.”
Waltzer told CubaNews he met with Fidel Castro during the trade show. “I explained to Castro who I was, that we’re a South Florida-based company, and that we wanted to promote Havana Club throughout Cuba.”
The result: a deal that by 2004 could be generating significant revenues for Splash, a “multimillion-dollar private company” that already has strong sales in Jamaica, St. Lucia, Barbados and other Caribbean islands.
Meanwhile, Havana Club has entered into an informal marketing agreement with the California Raisin Marketing Board to promote rum-raisin ice cream, along with Cuban ice-cream producer Coppellia; during the food expo, hundreds of visitors waited in long lines for a cup of the tasty concoction as cameras broadcast the event on Cuban TV.
“Rum-raisin ice cream is the No. 1 flavor of ice cream in Spain, and most likely it was a key seller here [before the revolution],” said Tom Payne, an executive with the California Raisin Marketing Board in San Mateo.
But the full results of such deals probably won’t be realized until Washington lifts its 42-year-old travel ban against Cuba.
“That’s when things will really take off,” said Waltzer. “Americans are curious about Cuba, and tons of people will come here.”
Yet neither man seems too worried about Bacardi’s possible reaction to the idea of a U.S. firm helping to promote Havana Club.
“If they’re so concerned with a 3-hour product sampling in a booth,” said Payne, “I would hope they have better things to do.”
Added Waltzer: “We need to put the past in the past. The Bush administration passed this law to allow us to be here, and to export to Cuba. This is a lot more important than Bacardi.”