Tue | May 24, 2022

Royal Jamaican ginger-flavoured beer back in production

Published:Friday | January 21, 2022 | 12:07 AMKarena Bennett - Business Reporter

Managing Director of RJ Rums and Spirits Peter Wong shows off the company’s products at the factory on Pechon Street, Kingston, on January 14.
Managing Director of RJ Rums and Spirits Peter Wong shows off the company’s products at the factory on Pechon Street, Kingston, on January 14.

T he Royal Jamaican ginger-flavoured beer is back in production after a three-year hiatus, and in its comeback the owners are aiming for markets both inside and outside Jamaica. Founders of RJ Rums and Spirits, Rick Anand and Peter Wong, have...

T he Royal Jamaican ginger-flavoured beer is back in production after a three-year hiatus, and in its comeback the owners are aiming for markets both inside and outside Jamaica.

Founders of RJ Rums and Spirits, Rick Anand and Peter Wong, have pumped an undisclosed amount of cash into the acquisition and renovation of a 22,000-square-foot building at 7 Pechon Street in Kingston, a property that formerly housed Razz Breweries Jamaica under owner Roy DeCambre, and before that Big City Brewing.

The ginger product is the second of two beers now being produced in 350-millilitre sizes at the Pechon Street brewery.

Wong was the managing director of Big City Brewing, the former producer of Real Rock Beer, Yardy Shandy, Roots Malta and Lion Heart Stout, before that business folded years ago, after failing to gain sufficient market traction against the dominant Red Stripe beer and other brands. It’s also the original production facility for the Royal Jamaican beer, which first hit the market in 2007.

RJ Rums and Spirits acquired the property and assets at Pechon Street in 2020 after Razz Breweries went into receivership.

Initially, RJ Rums’ craft ginger beer was packaged under contract by Red Stripe Jamaica. The arrangement, which lasted for five years, to 2017, allowed for RJ’s ginger-flavoured product to be exported, but blocked the sale of the beer on the local market, Wong said in an interview with the Financial Gleaner. Red Stripe also produces a number of flavoured beers.

Back in-house, the image of the Royal Jamaican beer is unchanged to recapture customers it once held. But the business itself is looking to do more than the flagship product this time around.

In December, just a year after it commenced operation on Pechon Street, RJ Rums launched a craft sorrel beer that will compete directly with Red Stripe’s sorrel-flavoured beer.

The company has also hired Wisynco Group to distribute both the ginger and sorrel beers, locally, while Anand, a UK-born businessman, manages international sales.

The ginger-flavoured beer is currently sold in 14 countries, including New Zealand, Singapore, Cayman Islands, United Kingdom, Japan, United States and Canada.

“We want to get our product in the local supermarkets, bars, and corner shops,” said Wong, “and as sales grows, we hope to add new products.”

RJ Rums and Spirits has enough capacity to produce up to 600,000 cases of beer annually, but as the business grows, the company plans to double capacity over time. The plant’s utilisation is currently around 60 per cent, but RJ Rums expects to hit maximum capacity with the launch of new products and third-party packaging contracts.

The company intends to roll out stout and lager beers this year, and will simultaneously seek opportunities to provide co-packing services to smaller players in the beer market. Over the long term, RJ Rums and Spirits will offer its beers in barrels to hotels and restaurants in the hospitality sector, one of the largest markets for beer in Jamaica.

“Between those initiatives, we expect to [use up] any underutilised capacity and also improve revenues,” Wong said. He declined, however, to speak on the company’s revenue forecasts, its investment to date in the Pechon Street operations, and the size of the investments contemplated to grow the business.

In time, RJ Rums and Spirits will also add spirits to its manufacturing operation. The owners have designated space at the Pechon Street factory to outfit with machinery for the production of rum products. It’s a market RJ Rums and Spirits had quietly been servicing through co-packing arrangements with a local manufacturer, but with the factory acquisition, the company is bullish on gaining a larger share of the market.

It already distributes dark, gold, white and spiced rums under the Royal Jamaican brand; dark, overproof, spiced and gold rums under the Jamaican Lion label; and a line of liqueurs under the name West Indies, which includes a cream liqueur, a Blue Mountain coffee liqueur and a rum punch that are mainly sold in local gift shops and duty-free stores, and shipped to the company’s 13 markets overseas.

“The margins on rums are higher than the beers, and so certainly we want to get into that space,” Wong said, regarding the RJ’s plan to deepen its presence in Jamaica’s rum market.

karena.bennett@gleanerjm.com