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How a marketing expert couple created Beckford’s award-winning rum | Analysis & Features

In 2019, after more than two decades of helping to grow the market for some of the UK’s biggest fmcg brands, Glyn Gronow and Lesley Astley decided it was time to build their own.

The result was Beckford’s, a premium rum and whiskey brand stocked in some of the grandest retail locations in the country. It has won a host of awards, including two golds at last year’s Farm Shop & Deli Product Awards.

Beckford’s is an offshoot of Zen Experiential, the Bath experiential marketing agency run by husband and wife team Gronow and Astley, alongside their two sons.

Zen started 25 years ago – “way before the word experiential was even made up. It was called field marketing back in those days,” says Gronow.

Over that time, they have worked with many major brands, including Red Bull when it made its UK debut, and continue to do so, attending up to 120 events a year. Alcohol brands have been a focus for the agency, and the couple used their expertise to shape Beckford’s.

“We could see rum had been underexploited and had always been led by fairly substandard products,” explains Gronow. “In my mind a very similar market was cider back in the 1970s and 1980s. It was a fairly rough product, and it’s become more refined.”

Beckfords range

Another big factor in the couple’s decision to launch Beckford’s was the shift and expansion of routes to market.

Changes in consumer behaviour, with shoppers now keen to support smaller premium products, and the opening up of retail opportunities such as food fairs and the internet, have transformed the access brands have.

“Twenty-five years ago, if you didn’t get a listing in Tesco, Sainsbury’s or wherever, you were never going to get off the ground,” Gronow says. “When we went to a trade show 25 years ago, we would see fantastic products made on people’s kitchen tables, but there was never an opportunity to get to market.”

But before developing their own goods, Gronow and Astley used their skills in marketing to test the water. They bought a wide range of products and put them in front of consumers to see what worked.

“One of the dangers about launching your own product is you listen to your personal preferences, but you have to listen to the consumer,” Gronow adds. “You don’t want a product that people say is just all right. That’s the kiss of death.”

The couple concluded that their debut drink should be a 25% abv rum & caramel, a product that remains their top seller.

The brand is named for 17th century freed slave Henry Beckford, who became an ardent abolitionist and can be seen in a National Portrait Gallery painting of the world’s first anti-slavery congress. He had been enslaved by (and given the surname of) the British Beckford family, who ran sugar plantations in the Caribbean.

The Beckford’s brand’s bottles show the rise and fall of the Beckford family, “with a very smart, elegant black man walking away”, Gronow explains. 

Anti-colonialism also inspired the naming of the brand’s 65% abv overproof Maroon Rum. The Maroons were escaped slaves who set up their own settlements and would use guerrilla warfare skills to fight their imperialist enemies. “We have a brand ambassador who is a celebrity chef in Jamaica and is descended from the Maroons. So, we’re telling that story. If you look at our bottle, the name Maroon Rum is written in a sort of a subversive writing. It’s almost like the Maroons came and pinched it off the shelf.”

Euphemia

In the four years since launching, the Beckford’s rum range has expanded with White Pearl coconut rum, Black Pearl spiced dark rum and Henry aged rum. The Maroon Rum has added a banana variant is is about to launch a coffee & cacao option. 

Beckford’s also produces two whiskey products: Euphemia Honey Whiskey, blended with fresh Scottish honey, and the recently launched Euphemia Whiskey Mac, a blend of whiskey and ginger to recreate the taste of the classic cocktail.

The honey whiskey was one of two Beckford’s products to win gold at the inaugural Farm Shop & Deli Product Awards, alongside the original Maroon tipple.

“Winning means a lot to us because you’re being peer reviewed, and it tells us we are doing something right,” says Gronow. It’s also an effective driver of sales, he adds. “We have done everything from selling our products off a table in a cow shed in November to being at Badminton Horse Trials and selling directly to ladies who lunch.”

Beckford’s has carefully grown its pool of stockists, which includes royal palaces and stately homes such as Longleat. The couple are especially excited to have recently secured a listing in the Waitrose Farm Shop on the Leckford Estate, Hampshire.

Export trade is also seen as a big opportunity, with Gronow recently visiting India as part of a Department of International Trade delegation under the Best of British banner. Beckford’s is also in talks over exporting to Nigeria.

On-trade listings are currently limited, but Gronow and Astley hope to change this with the upcoming launch of their first RTD, a rum punch under the Maroon brand.

At 11% abv, it provides “the kick of a double gin and tonic”, he says, and will be positioned as a premium product for discerning drinkers rather than a typical RTD.

“This is not a fizzy pop,” he adds. “We’re doing rum punch because everyone does canned cocktails and no one does punch. People go on holiday to Jamaica or to Antigua and they drink some lovely rum punch, but then they’ll never get it again. We want to change that.”

The launch is just the latest example of the faith the couple have in rum, and the confidence they have in its role in further innovation. Says Gronow: “It is the most versatile spirit. Rum has a long way to go.”

 

FS&DA-product-Awards-23

Entries are now open for the 2023 Farm Shop & Deli Product Awards, which highlight the best the specialist food market has to offer. The awards are open only to products sold in farm shops, delis and other specialist food retailers, and are judged by independent retailers, wholesaler buyers and other industry experts. To enter the awards or to register for the show, visit the Farm Shop & Deli Show website.

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