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How Crillon’s Absente and Barbancourt Bring Star Power to Tradition

The importer’s CEO shares insights on what is driving recent growth and market leadership

This advertising content was produced in collaboration with SevenFifty and our partner, Crillon Importers.

Crillon Importers was founded by Michel Roux, who, when spinning his marketing magic as Carillon Importers, made rock stars out of Absolut Vodka and Bombay Sapphire Gin beginning in the 1980s. Today, Crillon Importers is owned by Distilleries et Domaines de Provence, a century-old French distillery in France, owned and run by the Robert family. And CEO Jean-Baptiste Robert is proving that Crillon has a knack of its own for branding, as evident in the portfolio’s top products: Absente and Rhum Barbancourt. 

But don’t just credit marketing—authenticity is the driver, he insists. And this year, both brands are continuing to grow. “I believe in these uncertain times, consumers tend to favor intrinsic quality to marketing,” adds Robert. 

Absinthe Renaissance

Absente is the unquestioned king of the absinthe category, being first to market in the U.S. in 2001, making absinthe available for the first time since it was banned in 1912. Introduced a decade ahead of competitors, the brand continues to account for over half the U.S. absinthe market. 

Absente is not only handcrafted using the same ingredients as a century ago—notably wormwood, anise, balm, mint, fennel, and more—it also successfully connected its brand identity to absinthe’s colorful history as the “Green Fairy.” That classic French connection is rendered aptly on Absente’s packaging, starring Vincent Van Gogh and recently equipped with a traditional flat spoon for holiday gifting. 


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Rhum on a Roll

Meanwhile, Rhum Barbancourt is up 94 percent this year versus 2019, notes Robert, and will likely end 2020 as the second best-selling dark rum in the U.S. in cases and first in value. What changed?  

Not the product. “For years, we were facing frequent shortage and the supply could never meet the high demand,” says Robert. “The new CEO at the Haitian distillery understands the importance of the U.S., and tripled allocations.” The supply chain fix has enabled Rhum Barbancourt’s quality proposition—and stocks of aging rum, a rarity in the category—to shine. 

Being a rhum agricole, and using pure sugar cane juice (no molasses), is one quality advantage. Production remains hands-on—from managing the cane through fermentation and distillation—as it has been for 150 years.  

The best selling SKU, Rhum Barbancourt 5 Stars, is aged eight years in Limousin oak barrels. Rhum Barbancourt 15 Years Old, traditionally used for special occasions, ages an extra seven years in ex-bourbon barrels. Crillon also imports Rhum Barbancourt 3 Stars (aged four years); Rhum Barbancourt White; as well as Pango Rhum (blended with natural mango and pineapple).

Barbancourt’s legacy accounts for natural loyalty in the Haitian community. “It’s almost a symbol of the country,” notes Robert. But it is the brand’s position as a source of handcrafted aged dark rum that has extended its reputation among rum aficionados. “You look at Barbancourt and can see it’s not flashy,” says Robert. “It’s all about the liquid, and the roots to the land it came from. People like products that are deeply rooted, now more than ever.” 

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