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Bacardi Lightens Up Rum Offerings

Bacardi hopes to appeal to health-conscious consumers with its new light spirit. Island Breeze offers half the calories of traditional spirits, wine or beer.


January 26, 2005
Copyright © 2005 MIAMI HERALD. All rights reserved.

Calorie-counting consumers can find light alternatives for everything from ice cream and cookies to bread and beer. But until now, one category has been missing from the diet world: alcoholic spirits.

Bacardi USA is about to change that. The Miami-based company today will announce the launch of Island Breeze, which offers half the calories of traditional spirits, wine or beer. Billed as the ''original lite spirit,'' Island Breeze comes in key lime, wild berry and coconut flavors.

''Consumers today want to live life to the fullest, but they're also concerned about being healthier,'' said Alfredo ''Freddy'' Piedra, chairman of global new product development for Bacardi.

Island Breeze, developed in the firm's Jacksonville laboratory, contains Bacardi rum infused with natural fruit flavors. The secret ingredient? Sucralose, the calorie-free sugar substitute known by the brand name Splenda.

Island Breeze isn't just lighter in calories -- a 1.5 ounce serving has 48 calories, compared to 96 in the same size serving of vodka, rum, gin or whiskey -- it's also lighter in alcohol. Island Breeze is 18 percent alcohol by volume, compared to between 35 percent and 40 percent for most spirits. The alcohol content is slightly higher than wine, which runs between 10 percent and 12 percent.


With the rising obesity of Americans making news, consumer products firms have introduced a rash of products in stores and restaurants aiming to offer lower-calorie or lower-carbohydrate alternatives to traditionally fattening foods.

Bacardi hopes to capitalize on that trend, following on the success of light beer and diet soda.

Four out of the five top-selling beers are light beers, and light beers represent nearly 48 percent of the beer market, according to Adams Beer Handbook for 2004. Diet soft drinks rank as four of the top 10 selling soft drinks and continue to take market share away from regular sodas, reports Beverage Marketing Corp.

''This is a huge opportunity that currently isn't being met,'' Piedra said. ``This has the potential to create a whole new market in the alcoholic beverage industry.''


Industry experts say Bacardi faces a challenge to ensure Island Breeze doesn't suffer the same fate as the most recent attempt to create a new category: the introduction of flavored malt beverages like Smirnoff Ice and Bacardi Silver. The category took off with a bang but has since fizzled.

''Trying to create a new category is a rocky road,'' said Tom Pirko of industry consultant Bevmark. ``It's really hard to get consumers to buy into these propositions. Very few products succeed long-term in a way that really changes the nature of the business.''

Island Breeze will be available in liquor stores, bars and restaurants throughout the U.S. starting in April or May. Suggested retail price is $13.99 for a standard 750-milliliter bottle, which is comparable to Bacardi's other flavored rums.


Bacardi plans to promote the product heavily in national television and print advertising, as well as sampling programs in stores and bars. Bacardi also has created recipes for lower-calorie alternatives to popular drinks like a cosmopolitan, margarita or piña colada by using mixers like low-carb cranberry and orange juice, sugar-free lemonade and diet sodas.

A skinny piña colada can have 68 or 78 calories depending on whether it is a frozen version, compared to 376 calories for the traditional version.

Sheah Rarback, a dietitian with the University of Miami School of Medicine, bemoans the flurry of low-calorie foods and beverages as overkill.

''We keep manipulating products to make them lower calorie and yet everyone keeps getting fatter because they're distracted by the products and don't focus on a healthier lifestyle,'' Rarback said. ``If you have a weight problem you shouldn't be drinking that many drinks anyhow.''

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