Go where Bacardi isn't.
That was Cruzan's plan in rolling out a series of exotically flavored rums in 1997-coconut, pineapple and banana-after seeing the success of flavored vodkas.
"You could see the flavored vodkas and you could see rum would follow," says Mr. Valdes, exec VP at Bacardi-he helped launch Bacardi Limon-before joining Cruzan (then Todhunter) in 1995. "We saw an opportunity."
It's been a winning recipe. Propelled by a line of eight flavors, including mango and raspberry, Cruzan sold 435,000 cases of rum in 2004, up 26%, according to figures from Impact Databank. Cruzan's growth has continued even as other marketers have jumped on the bandwagon.
"They were at the right place at the right time," says beverage industry consultant Tom Pirko.
Cruzan had negligible name recognition when Mr. Valdes joined the company; he was hired by CEO and fellow Bacardi alum Jay Maltby. To change that view, they built up the distribution network and updated the packaging of the existing lineup. In 1997, it rolled out flavored rums as well as a superpremium rum. They pushed the products through tastings.
Still grappling with low recognition, Cruzan sponsored the 2004 tour of country singer Kenny Chesney, promoting it with a small in-house produced ad campaign. After that, they signed a three-year deal with the singer, who has worked the brand into his songs.
"We've exposed our brand to his audience," Mr. Valdes says.