By Vernon Velasco
WHEN I was a kid, I used to revel at my grandpa’s wine cellar at their quaint little house at Adriatico Street. There he stashed an age-old bottle of Tanduay rum, among other spirits that, he said, were, if memory serves me right, at least over 20 years old. The bottles were gathering a veneer of permanent dust, and, being as naïve as I was back in the day, I remember asking when was he planning to drink his “beers [as I always referred to liquor as beer].”“When it’s 100 years old,” he said. I only had only come to understand later that a spirit is at its best when it’s a hundred years old. But, then again, my grandpa has long been dead, and that bottle of Tanduay rum remains stashed in that cellar.
This came to mind when Tanduay rum was recently conferred with something commensurate to its august 160 years of tradition, the prestigious Brand of the Year Award, an accolade given by the equally prestigious London-based World Branding Forum (a global nonprofit organization on advancing branding standards) to only the world’s best labels that have always been at the back of our heads, such as household names Coca-Cola, Louis Vuitton and Nike.
Tanduay is the first homegrown brand in its category (Spirits-Rum) to have ever won The Brand of the Year Award in the entire beverage industry in the country, among the veritable raft of epics like Jollibee, Puregold and Ayala Land, which also won the plum this year.
Winners of the World Branding Awards were arduously singled out through three streams: Brand Valuation, Consumer Market Research and Public Online Voting, and leveraged on extensive media exposure, successful advertising and marketing. From over 2,500 brands nominated from 35 countries, measly 119 were selected as winners, including Tanduay sharing the limelight with Apple, Samsung and Mercedes Benz at the awarding night on September 24 at Kensington Palace in London.
“This is a proof that we’re global and that people from other countries recognize our culture and tradition of making rum. We share the award with patrons, who have been drinking Tanduay and have been enjoying our product for the longest time,” said Gerardo Tan Tee, COO of Absolut Distillers Inc. of the Lucio Tan Group of Companies, which manufactures Tanduay.
This is the first time in the No. 1 rum’s 160-year history that its distillery and manufacturing was awarded thrice in five years. Before the Brand of the Year Award, Tanduay had garnered over 170 recognitions and swept awards ceremonies, among them the global Green Apple Awards in 2011 and the Green Hero Awards (which is also based in London) in 2012, mostly on account of the distillery’s environment-friendly manufacturing.
Tee said that, apart from sheer age and popularity, Tanduay’s green manufacturing is the No. 1 rum’s major fillip in winning these awards.
“A distillery is one of the world’s most ‘pollutive’ industries as far as manufacturing is concerned. What sets Tanduay apart from other brands is that every drop of alcohol is manufactured with ‘green intention.’ A distillery comes with an environmentally detrimental organic substance that, when disposed of into the sea, will suck oxygen from the water, thereby killing fishes,” Tee said. “We have become a responsible distillery by turning a problem into a resource—into a liquid fertilizer we dish out as part of our corporate social responsibility to farmers our chairman [Lucio Tan Sr.] regards as ‘business partners.’”
Tanduay’s Brand of the Year Award thrust is also attributed to its growth spurred by its prize marketing, what with its flagship thrust on Tanduay’s160th anniversary.
“We started actually by just doing what we do best—what we do best is to maintain the high quality of our products. What is making money or what is relevant or what is popular we will maintain because the customers want it that way,” Tee said. “Anyone in our company can be fired by our partners [customers]; the only thing they will do is not to buy the product. We need to come up with something better, year in, year out. That is our mission and that is our vision of how the company is going to be: innovation, evolution.”
The global brand has not been so much exporting outside the country and, in fact, had just started exporting, specifically to Miami in the US, last year. But Tee said that, since Tanduay is evolving, the rum is starting to be exported abroad, Europe being among the major export points.
“‘Yung mga foreigners may dinadalang Tanduay sa Europe. When they come over, nabibili nila ‘to and nagkakaroon ng word of mouth. This is a signal for us to really go to Europe,” Tee said. “Sabi ko nga sa kanila, we have products here that are very cost-effective. Tanduay is an inexpensive, but quality product. Where on Earth can you buy rum at $2 a bottle? It’s only here.”
Tan said that it is a proof that the Filipino ingenuity is really recognized globally. And for a brand that always identifies with the Filipino, Tanduay’s origin has always been inextricably tied to “our culture, our heritage our aging—it’s our totality,” Tee said.
“Tanduay is fun, resilient, timeless. A Filipino is like that: We are resilient. We’re flexible, we adapt; Tanduay adapts to the changing times. Kahit ilang libong competitors ang dumating, nand’yan pa rin ang Tanduay. Like the Filipino, Tanduay is a legend,” Tee said. “Competitors come and go; it doesn’t bother us. We encourage competition; we invite them to join the manufacturing sector because it will benefit the country. If your product is good, it will stand the test of time. Tanduay did and Tanduay will.”
Tanduay is and Tanduay ever will. After all, Tanduay has been around for over 160 years and has witnessed its patrons come and go and become part of their lifetime, like my grandfather. And a spirit that manages to outlive its drinker is, well, immortal.