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Bristol Premier's 'Best Of The Best'

By NEIL HARTNELL Tribune Business Editor BRISTOL Wine and Spirits is aiming to showcase "the best of the best" in its wine and spirits portfolio through next week's 'soft opening' of its one-acre Premier Cru venue on Gladstone Road, its president yesterday saying the "significant investment" would create at least seven new jobs. Juan Bacardi explained that the drinks distributor's latest venture was focused primarily at the Bahamian market, targeting discerning consumers who wanted to learn about the wines and spirits industry, and the "art form" and science that went into their favourite drinks. Premier Cru, the name employing wine industry terminology, will ultimately carry 100-110 different wines and 10 spirits brands, none of which will be found in Bristol's 16 stores or the independent liquor retailers it supplies, Mr Bacardi told Tribune Business. The brands at Premier Cru, which has the logo '1er Cru', will instead be distributed solely to the Bahamian restaurant and hotel industry, thus allowing Bristol to segment its market and offer those sectors premium, exclusive product found nowhere else. And, if it proves successful, Mr Bacardi told Tribune Business he may look to export the Premier Cru concept "outside the Bahamas" to foreign locations. Explaining the concept behind Premier Cru, which is located across from Bristol's corporate headquarters, Mr Bacardi said it was intended to capture the "personal aspect" behind the wine and spirits industry, and what went into manufacturing products. It would, he added, seek to provide consumers with education and understanding, answering all the questions they had - something that did not often happen given how the Bahamian and global liquor distribution business was structured. "The concept has really come about from working in the business and retail stores for several years, and getting a lot of comments from consumers," Mr Bacardi explained. "There's a personal association with our industry that's not there based on the way it's structured." Bristol distributes sodas, beers, wines and spirits, and Mr Bacardi said its retail stores - and those owned by others - tended to be locations where consumers "rush in, rush out" with their purchases. Little time was taken to understand or explore the products being bought. "There's certainly more of a personal aspect to the wines and spirits business, and that's what we're trying to get back to; from an educational perspective, the artistic perspective of creating wine and spirits, and understanding what's involved," the Bristol president explained. "That's essentially what we want to do with this venue: Provide a venue anyone can come into, as long as they have an interest in what they're consuming. Everybody who wants to learn about the wines and spirits industry, this is the place to come to. We're just providing the education behind what we're doing, and that builds on the brands." Apart from showcasing its premier brands and the industry, Premier Cru will also enable Bristol to reach out and touch its consumers directly when it opens by the end of next week, no bad thing in building a market and loyalty for its main business. Mr Bacardi said Premier Cru would allow visitors to sample wines in its garden, as well as purchase product for taking home. He likened the retail experience to a drinks industry version of an Apple store in the US, where representatives interacted directly with customers and answered all their questions. Premier Cru will feature a 3,600 square foot building, and the garden takes the property's total size to about one acre. Training seminars for hotel and restaurant staff will be held there, and it will also be available for renting by private parties and functions, such as birthdays and weddings. "We can probably hold 200 people comfortably," Mr Bacardi told Tribune Business. "The renting aspect for functions is something I've never done before. But I've had a few people in the catering business say: 'Juan, this is a great venue for those type of things'. We'll offer it and see how it goes. We'll develop that over the next few weeks, as we get the business up and running." Bristol expects Premier Cru to create some seven jobs, four of which will be in the store, with more personnel involved in dealing with functions. "We'll probably have an average of about 100 different wines and 10 different spirits," Mr Bacardi told Tribune Business of Premier Cru's brand line-up. "I think we're at about 80-something now, but that will grow to 100-110 wines over the course of the year. "The brands will get the exposure they're looking for, as they will be sold to restaurants and hotels. The brands in Premier Cru will not be in Bristol stores." Joking that Premier Cru had taken eight months to construct, but 17 years to materialise as a concept, he added: "It's more of an experience and journey of, essentially, the industry. "We'd like to offer the best of the best. We want to do something unique. This is something we are testing, and I see this project, if it does work well, to perhaps export it outside the Bahamas. We need to make sure this project works well, and has a market. It's a great place to assess the market, and if it has legs we'll take it elsewhere. "If we did not have Bristol behind us, I would not be tempted to try this concept out. But they're bringing in lots of containers, and I think we can get this venture to work." While declining to put a dollar figure on Bristol's investment in Premier Cru, Mr Bacardi described the capital outlay as "significant", indicating it was in the 'hundreds of thousands-low millions' range. "We own the property up here and that was a big comforter, not having to go and invest in property as well as a building. We were conservative," he added. Premier Cru will also feature an accessories division, featuring products such as champagne and wine glasses. Mr Bacardi estimated that it would feature between 30-50 different products. The new venture will also be handily placed to attract tourist business, given the proximity of the $2.6 billion Cable Beach redevelopment and the new access roads to it. "We're in a great position, especially if the primary entrance to Baha Mar is just down the hill," Mr Bacardi told Tribune Business. "That will be one aspect, but the majority of the focus is the local market, getting everyone interested in it. That's where the support lies; the Bahamian market."

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