Old Monk is one of those rare brands that is synonymous with its category. When you think of rum the first thing that probably comes to mind is its classic, textured-glass bottle. Old Monk has a loyal following that other brands can only dream of, yet as recent news reports show, the brand is fast losing its dominance in the rum market. In this episode of The Real Food Podcast, Vikram Doctor chronicles Old Monk’s colonial origins and its popularity during the 80s and 90s, and examines what needs to be done to revive this enduring brand.
The kind of fame that Old Monk has achieved can be attributed to several factors, ranging from the Army’s Canteen Stores Department (CSD) connection that helped Old Monk reach all across India, to its distinct sweetness that naturally appeals to the Indian palate. Of course, nostalgia plays a crucial role as well – journalist and broadcaster Rajdeep Sardesai, who is an Old Monk loyalist, tells Vikram about one of the first memories he has of the drink, calling it something that made one feel “manly”.
But, no matter how much you love the drink, market realities cannot be ignored. This report by the Times of India shows just how much ground Old Monk has lost to McDowell’s Celebration, which is currently India’s leading rum brand. In the last five years, Old Monk sales have fallen by as much as 54.4%. And, even though Mohan Meakin, the makers of Old Monk, sent out a message of reassurance, saying that they weren’t going to stop the production of Old Monk, it’s apparent that the rum is going to have to fight to stay in the game.
The challenges Old Monk faces are many. Shatbhi Basu, who runs a school for bartenders, points out that the rum market in India is declining, with the entry of a number of single-malt and vodka brands giving people a vast choice of drinks. The most significant challenge that Old Monk faces, Vikram explains, is the belief that nostalgia will be enough to tide this drink over hard times. In today’s diverse market, the need for marketing your brand is strong and brands need to ensure that they have a presence other than just in alcohol retail shops. This is something that Old Monk needs to pay attention to.
The future for this much-loved rum is uncertain. And, to combat the challenges it faces, the brand needs to change its complacent attitude. In the mean time, Vikram suggests following the Irani restaurant strategy. Wondering what that is? Tune in to the podcast here to find out.