When I received my gift bottle of Sun Rum I wasn’t sure whether to open it or place it on the shelf as an item of beauty…gleaming white, with a strong brand and wooden cork, this really was a ray of sunshine entering our house during lockdown and a welcome change to bottles of rose and non alcohol beer.
Matt suggested a few of his signature cocktails before (the night before I hasten to add) our chat, including the Coca-Cola based Pina Libre and The Sun Honey Mojito which I made one evening in August…..word to the wise, don’t make cocktails AND cook at the same time….. and if you start to drink the cocktails you’ll be in a whole world of trouble, so just focus on one thing at a time.
Fortunately, I got away with it so our side of salmon cooked in foil with salad and rice (quite difficult to get that wrong to be honest) was a delicious complement to the variety of Sun Rum cocktails which were served during the evening. The only real casualty was the kitchen…a no go zone until the following morning!
To be honest I’m more of a wine with food man but the Sun Rum cocktails were a welcome change and really hit the spot without giving us a groggy head the next morning. Really good fun in the making too….you feel you’ve earned the drink when you’ve put more effort into it. But the bar-tenders of Oxfordshire need not fear, I’m no expert.
So why rum Matt? “I’ve been in hospitality for most of my career, it’s my passion and has given me a solid foundation in understanding the trends and needs of customers. You find yourself sub-consciously picking up on the rhetoric around what people and customers think about certain brands and drinks. I have been around various rum and spirit brands as a customer and employee for some time, but the self-employed journey started five to six years ago when I was running a hotel and a pub in Lymington, which is where I live.
“My friend and I were at a gin tasting party – someone was launching a local gin and wanted some locals to give feedback. We were both in a comfortable stage of our lives and decided to see if we could emulate the other gin brands and create our own product. After seven or eight months of learning about gin we launched our own gin brand. This brand development and creation project showed me that my business partner had a much clearer vision of how it could work in the gin category whilst I was being distracted by rum. Our friendship was more important than the business, so we agreed that I would exit stage left to let my friend grow the gin brand, which he has managed really well.
“That allowed me to go my own way and create my own product and legacy for my children. I wanted to create an impact….a product that people have in their homes and talk about. That’s really fulfilling for me and will help in my legacy creation. This philosophy hit me when I had kids and I started to think of the future rather than the present. I started looking after my body, running and doing marathons etc….
“I came across something that someone said seven or eight years ago that resonated with me. They were inspired to do things that only the top two or three per cent of the population do, things we can all do but that only a small group actually does. Anyone can run a marathon, as was proved by people I’ve seen without limbs, various ages and body types all running competitive marathons, but choosing to devote time to train for something like a marathon is quite a choice to make. However, for those that don’t make these choices, they are the ones putting up the barriers…I firmly believe that any of us can do anything we want to do. This inspired me to really enjoy the idea of working harder than anyone else to create opportunities for my family.
“I’ve also always been interested in the psychology of why people do what they do. I was fortunate to bump into Simon Sinek five years ago (author of ‘Start With Why’) and have followed his journey ever since. I’ve focused on understanding why I am doing what I’m doing as it really helps to cope with the failures if you truly believe what you’re doing is achievable.
“So, starting with those building blocks, I learned more about spirit creation, starting a company, working with HMRC, spirit licensing….it must be the hardest business to get off the ground with all of the regulation surrounding it. Rather than just think of a product and selling it, I had to establish the framework around it. I found an investor to help with some initial investment but wanted to be prudent with that small amount of capital.
“I tasked myself with learning to do as much as possible myself, rather than investing money in experts from day one. I’m now getting to the point where I can employ others to do the specialist roles, but up until now I’ve built the website, managed the social media, sent out surveys, learned about the finer details of rum distillation, the philosophies of branding and marketing and where I source from. Establishing these values is crucial for me as I start to grow the business.”
Rum contributed to a rise in sales across the spirits category in 2019. With total sector value up by 6.2 per cent, this growth was undoubtedly powered by the massive popularity of gin and a wider love of new cocktails.
Keen to distance rum from the cliched ‘sailors and pirates’ connotation, Matt launched his brand in 2019 after testing the market the summer before. The aim is to appeal specifically to summer sophisticates and high-end resorts, from across the UK to the South of France and Ibiza, places where young at heart party crowds frequent quality bars, clubs, hotels and restaurants.
“I’m trying to promote the connection between people – fun, work hard play hard, look after our environment. I’m trying to think like large brands do, for example this week I’ve been creating a series of podcasts and videos with musicians and sports personalities to start having discussions and the rum brand is endorsing that….you don’t find many small brands that do that. I really want to go deep into connecting the brand with people. Much like Red Bull have done with connecting what is essentially an energy drink with adrenaline sports…they started off educating their customers with the ‘Red Bull gives you wings’ cartoon and now they’re synonymous with adrenaline sports.
“The drink itself is a collaboration of rums and we feel this mix offers something greater than the sum of the individual styles. Togetherness and collaboration is something very important in my life and business. The whole brand endorses a vibrant and fun lifestyle, something that is ever present in all marketing and social media content as well. We love using the strap-line ‘if you’re gonna do it, you may as well Sun Rum it!’.”
Currently, direct to consumer sales online have been the largest growth area in light of the recent hospitality sector suspension. Matt’s next move is to expand, supply more to the retail and trade sector and build connections with those who endorse enjoyment, a beach lifestyle, holidays, modern music, clubs and DJs, people who promote events which make safe and happy memories. Once he has made inroads with the UK market, he plans to move across to Europe, then further afield. Discussions are being had at this moment to launch the product in the Mediterranean next spring.
In the diary is the (now rescheduled) International Drinks Expo in London in June 2021, the premier event for connecting hospitality industry professionals. Sun Rum has been nominated for the prestigious “Design Excellence Award” here. A platform that traditionally has seen passed winner fast-tracked to success.
On-going partnerships with events such as UKG Brunch, DnB Brunch and the Barcelona bound “Summer Solstice” dance festival in May 2021, continue to fill up Sun Rum’s schedule with much more to be confirmed for 2021 soon.
“Having worked with various drinks brands my entire career, I do love and respect the image traditional rum brands have forged for themselves over the past 30 years or so. However, the ‘2020s’ need to offer something that better connects with
drinkers today and Sun Rum should firmly fill that desire.”
Aptly, for a drink based on cane juice or molasses, Matt is already looking to hit the sweet spot once venues are open for business again. Visit https://www.sun-rum.com/ and the retail price is £29.95 available from Amazon and other retail outlets.