Hatuey returns to market with new taste
Bacardi brings back a legendary Cuban beer — this time, a small-batch
By ELAINE WALKER
Cuba's leading beer is on the comeback trail in South Florida.
The new version of Hatuey from Bacardi U.S.A. features a premium
formulation with a striking resemblance to the legendary brand whose
roots date back to 1927 in Santiago de Cuba.
Rafael Diaz-Duque, who worked in the Hatuey plant in Cuba, has been
waiting eagerly for the latest introduction. He got his first taste at a
South Beach launch party last week and deemed it much better than the
last version Bacardi introduced in the United States in the mid-1990s.
Hatuey beer has been completely off the market for over a year. The
Hatuey malta has been available and remains unchanged.
"This is more or less the same as I remember from Cuba," said
Diaz-Duque, 86, who now lives in Kendall.
Just in time for July Fourth, the new Hatuey will be arriving at bars,
restaurants and liquor stores throughout Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.
Expansion to Broward and Palm Beach counties will come later this
summer, with further expansion around Florida and the United States
based on demand.
Hatuey (pronounced ah-TWAY), is named after the 16th century Indian
chief from Hispaniola who led the Cuban resistance against the
Spaniards. At its peak in 1960, the brand had more than 50 percent of
the Cuban beer market with sales of over 12 million cases a year. Even
today, it spurs feelings of nostalgia among Cubans and a reminder of
home no different from a fine Cuban cigar.
At the time of the Cuban revolution, Hatuey was actually a bigger
business than Bacardi rum. But the Bacardi family decided it would be
easier to launch the rum brand internationally than compete in an
already crowded beer arena.
"This beer and the name Hatuey helped Bacardi put itself on the
international map," said Aura Reinhardt, a Bacardi USA spokeswoman.
The newest version of Hatuey is micro-brewed as a small-batch,
handcrafted premium golden-colored ale. Thomas Creek Brewery in
Greenville, S.C., is producing no more than 800 cases per batch. The
packaging has a retro feel with the Indian chief in his signature
headdress on the red, yellow and blue logo.
"We want to keep it exclusive," said Anler Morejon, brand manager for
Hatuey. "We built the category of premium beer in Cuba. This is the
right place for us to be. Bacardi is all about premium products."
That wasn't the case with Bacardi USA's previous version of Hatuey. It
was a much lighter beer mass-produced in the United States beginning in
1995. When Bacardi ceased production a year and a half ago, it was
selling 15,000 cases a year.
This time around, Bacardi aims to tap into the popularity of the craft
brewing industry, which remains the fastest-growing segment of the beer
market. The craft brewing segment in 2010 saw an 11 percent growth in
volume and 12 percent jump in total retail sales, according to the
Brewers Association, compared with a 1 percent drop in volume in overall
U.S. beer sales. But craft brewing remains only a small part of the $101
billion beer market, with $7.6 billion in sales in 2010.
Richard Amundsen, a Coral Gables-based beverage marketing consultant,
views the move toward the craft beer market as a smart one for Bacardi.
He called the new Hatuey an "excellent product."
"They're responding to what the market wants," said Amundsen, the former
Hispanic marketing manager for J. Schlitz Brewing. "They have to be
aggressive about putting advertising and strong public relations behind
the product in order to get people to taste it."
The key is getting consumers like Jody Giraldo to try Hatuey again.
Giraldo likes to support his Cuban heritage, but never cared for the
original U.S. version of Hatuey. This time he was impressed.
"There's a lot more body to this beer," said Giraldo, 34, a Cuban
American from Miami, who is in the financial services industry. "The
packaging is a lot better. It's closer to what our forefathers had back
Giraldo is exactly the target market that Bacardi hopes to attract with
the latest version of Hatuey. It's aimed at a 30-something consumer who
appreciates the sophistication of a craft beer that can be enjoyed with
a wide variety of food.
A six-pack of Hatuey will sell for an average of $8.99. That's two or
three dollars more than the last version launched in the U.S. market.
"This is less about popping a can and sitting in front of the
television. It's more about drinking with family and friends," Reinhardt
said. "We believe this product can help us get our business to the next