When Bahamian-owned rum brand Luna Rum officially opened its Gladstone Road distillery in February, after a full year of planning, George Sands, chief executive officer of Genuinely Bahamian – its parent company – said all executives were focused on was fine-tuning the six flavors of the rum the company manufactures.
But then the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
“About four years ago, we started the company, but the rum production, we started the conversation and the build out last year, I would say probably around April or March of last year,” he told Guardian Business.
“We got up and running. We actually started our distillery on February 19 of this year. We got the rum going, we were tweaking the flavors, we were ready for the production of the rum for the cakes and then the pandemic happened. At that point, we kicked ourselves, cried, moaned and groaned for a little while; and started asking ourselves what the hell are we going to do now?”
And like most businesses staring down the barrel of closure in March this year, when the prime minister declared a state of emergency, Genuinely Bahamian had to quickly pivot in order for its distillery to survive.
“We had that light bulb moment that led us to doing disinfectant,” Sands said.
“I want to say we produced probably a little over 5,000 gallons, could be more. I think we sold Super Value alone, about 1,600 gallons and Doctors Hospital probably another 800 gallons.”
With a successful disinfectant manufacturing side of the business now established, Sands said the company questioned, “now what”, and had the idea of producing flavored rum.
“Once I got the disinfectant or alcohol side of the business launched and moving on its own, then we had that time that we could now focus on rum production,” he said.
“So we tried it. We launched it in July, but the flavors did not pop. So, we went back to the drawing board and we re-tweaked the formula and now it’s a raving success.”
Sands, a partner in the rum cake manufacturing company Tortuga, said the idea behind Luna Rum came as a way to make the cakes completely Bahamian.
“We normally would import rum for the Tortuga cakes. We were doing our part as Bahamians when you talk about keeping money in the country. So, that was a part of the decision making more or less in producing our own rum here and keeping that money into the country,” he said.
“It also opens up a whole new door for employment for locals. We’re talking about a rum taster, which is actually a profession; we’re talking about an artisan, that’s a profession; we’re talking about persons that work in a distillery, that’s a craft profession as well. Then you have your bottling, your labelling, so it’s a whole new job market. We have created probably seven new positions in this distillery and that is going to explode once the product hits the market.”
There are six flavors of the rum – raspberry, cherry chocolate, coffee, banana, pineapple and coconut – and the company is seeking to expand as it grows.
“We are in the process right now of creating an aged rum, white rum and gold rum, that we plan to launch probably in the beginning of the second quarter next year,” Sands said.
“The plan is to continue with the disinfectant. In fact we’re getting ready right now to send a letter introducing the company to the government, so that they can themselves support Bahamian by buying the disinfectant. Our disinfectant comes in two scents, jasmine and citrus. There’s no gooey or sticky residue; it’s nice.”
Next for the company, once it becomes an established local product, is to begin exporting, Sands said.