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Mojito Club: Everything's Cuban but the rum itself
CubaNews / August 2002

By Larry Luxner

Six years ago, French drinks giant Pernod Ricard S.A. — which produces Havana Club rum in a profitable venture with the Cuban government — sued Bermuda-based Bacardi & Co. Ltd. But Section 211 has effectively derailed the lawsuit.

Even so, Pernod Ricard continues to accuse Bacardi not only of stealing the Havana Club trademark but also of deceiving its customers into thinking that Bacardi’s Bahamian-produced rum actually comes from Cuba.

“Bacardi produces rum in several countries, including Mexico, Puerto Rico and Europe,” complains the official Pernod Ricard website, “and sells it by playing on a supposedly Cuban image, carefully maintained by ambiguous advertising campaigns.”

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

Earlier this year, Pernod Ricard USA rolled out Mojito Club — a citrus-flavored, rum-based spirit distilled in Venezuela and bottled in Mexico.

Yet tourists who have been to Cuba will notice that the label on each bottle of Mojito Club — right down to the lettering, coloring and icon of its La Giraldilla logo — is nearly identical to that of Havana Club, which Pernod Ricard can’t sell in the United States due to the embargo.

Mojito Club is already available on liquor-store shelves in New York, Los Angeles, Baltimore and South Florida. It retails for $13 per 750-milliliter bottle and also comes in 50-milliliter and one-liter sizes.

Pernod Ricard, which reported $4.5 billion in 2001 sales, says Mojito Club “takes its inspiration from one of Cuba’s oldest drinks, the famed mojito cocktail,” and that it expects “the recent Latin cultural sensation sweeping America” to boost sales considerably.

“Flavored rums continue to be one of the hottest categories in distilled spirits, while young, urban sophisticates across the country tout the mojito cocktail as the next big drink,” hypes a press release written by New York-based Hunter Public Relations. “Mojito Club will further drive this booming trend, offering consumers a bottled embodiment of the passionate, sexy, free-willed Cuban experience.”

Asked why her three-page release glosses over the drink’s true country of origin, Hunter PR account executive Mara Flynn says it’s not “pertinent” to the story.

“I think it’s very clear that Mojito Club is not from Cuba,” she told CubaNews. “We’re not really concerned that people will make the mistake [of thinking that it is].” Jorge Rodríguez, a spokesman for Bacardi Corp. in Miami, wouldn’t comment on Mojito Club, though Mark Orr, a top executive with Pernod Ricard USA, says one thing has nothing to do with another.

“The root of our lawsuit [against Bacardi] was the use of the word Havana for a product they were producing in the Bahamas,” said Orr, Pernod Ricard’s Washington-based vice-president for North American affairs. “I see that as a distinct issue that had arisen between our company and the Bacardi folks.

“Obviously, Bacardi can’t make rum in Cuba these days, yet Cuba is a big part of their heritage, and that’s where their rum started,” Orr said. “Many people continue to think Bacardi rum is made in Cuba. That’s one of the problems Pernod Ricard S.A. has encountered around the world in marketing Havana Club, which is of Cuban origin.”

Havana Club — sold by Pernod Ricard in 88 countries — is among the world’s fastest-growing spirits brands, with first-quarter 2002 sales up 6% over the same period last year.

According to the Impact Databank, Havana Club sold 1.85 million cases worldwide in 2001.

Orr wouldn’t give any figures on Mojito Club sales either by volume or value, nor did he make available any specific information about where in Venezuela the rum is being distilled, or where in Mexico it’s being bottled. All he’d say on that subject is that Pernod Ricard USA complies with all federal labeling regulations.

“The mojito is a cocktail, not a geographic place. It’s enjoyed throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, and we don’t necessarily suggest that the product itself is of Cuban origin,” Orr told us. “Several companies are now producing mojito cocktails of one kind or another. For whatever reason, mojitos are quite popular these days, and a lot of folks are trying to take advantage of that.”

In a recent product review, the Miami Herald had nice things to say about Pernod Ricard’s latest concoction: “Packaged in a frosted glass bottle, its label sporting an image of La Giraldilla — the bronze weathervane that tops the Castillo de la Real Fuerza in Havana — Mojito Club is a tart, lime-flavored citrus rum that can be served either straight up or in a cocktail like the Cuban Cosmo.”

Asked if the introduction of Mojito Club is just a marketing gimmick to prepare American rum-drinkers for the day when Havana Club will be legal in U.S. bars, restaurants and liquor stores, Orr had this to say:

“Pernod Ricard looks forward to the day when it can sell Havana Club in the United States, but who knows if that day will ever come? Nobody thinks it’s going to happen anytime soon.”

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