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Mr. Bradley Tuyn, Founder & Managing Member of Tico Libre Holdings, LLC dba “Libre Rum & Cola® (“Libre”) based out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida
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Libre Website Logo
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Libre Rum & Cola
Exclusive Interview with Mr. Bradley Tuyn, Founder and Managing Member of Tico Holdings, LLC
I first met Mr. Brad Tuyn about 2 years ago and we discussed “Libre’s” plan for an RTD Rum & Cola using aged rum.I was super excited! Now, jumping into present time, I am very happy to introduce to you “Libre Rum & Cola®”. Finally for the first time ever, consumers will be able to enjoy a rum & cola with aged rum instead of white rum or even malt! I want to thank Mr. Tuyn for taking the time out of his very busy schedule to share with us Libre’s story from inception to its final production. I wish Mr. Tuyn and his team much success. I look forward to enjoying a can of Libre on the beach or by the pool!
Margaret Ayala, Publisher
Q: What is your full name, title, and company name and company location?
Bradley Tuyn, Founder & Managing Member of Tico Libre Holdings, LLC dba “Libre Rum & Cola®" (“Libre”) based out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Q: What inspired you to get started in the rum industry?
The story of Libre began in Costa Rica– this is where my rum journey began. I was managing a real estate hedge fund set up to finance small, niche real estate developments. By the time we were ready to break ground on our first ocean front project in Costa Rica in fall of 2008, Lehman Brothers filed Chapter 11 and the financial crisis ensued. We were already out of business.
During that time we served a very popular rum & cola cocktail at our events nicknamed,“Tico Libre” – the Costa Rican version of the famous “Cuba Libre” or Rum & Coke as we know and love. Condo buyers and investors from the U.S. and Canada raved about our Tico Libre. Why? We used a specific, high quality, amber aged rum, Coke Zero and a twist of lemon (vs lime). It was a higher quality, lower calorie, better tasting (so we were told) rum & cola experience.
For events where we didn’t have time to mix cocktails (like golf or horseback riding)we would throw “Bamboo”, a Costa Rican canned rum & cola ready- to-drink (RTD) into coolers with Costa Rica’s famous Imperial Beer. Well, to our surprise, a majority of the time our beer drinker guests would pick up a can of rum & cola out of curiosity, enjoy the beer alternative, and actually reach for a second. Every time they asked the same question – “How cool – canned rum & coke, so refreshing versus a beer – why don’t they sell these in the U.S. (or Canada)?”. And so, as a former Research Analyst, my exploration began.
One sunny afternoon in Costa Rica, on the Pacific shore, were out of business due to the financial crisis, sitting poolside with my real estate attorney Leonardo Salazar (the Tico in Libre) and drinking our sorrows away with a Tico Libre. Tired of having to get up and mix another cocktail, and unwilling to drink Bamboo (a high calorie, low rum quality RTD), I turned to Leonardo and said, “ Imagine if we could produce Tico Libre in a can, market and distribute worldwide, so anyone living anywhere could enjoy a high quality, low calorie real aged rum & cola?”. He looked at me, laughed and said, “that’s actually the best idea you’ve had since I’ve known you.” The next day he contacted the rum producer in Central America and the rest is history. I closed my investment management business of 10+ years, and proudly put on my Libre jersey.
From that point on, I was greatly inspired by the inventor of SKYY Vodka, Maurice Kanbar, and I carefully used his well-written book, “Secrets from an Inventor’s Notebook”, as frame work for our business plan which took a lot of Mr. Kanbar’s grass roots advice into account. Last Fall, I had the great pleasure of meeting him in person at his office in San Francisco – a career highlight for sure. And out of respect for the great inventor, I won’t disclose his secrets unless you read his book!
Q: What product(s) are you currently producing?
Libre is structured as a quasi-Red Bull single product business model leveraging and specializing in one SKU out of the gate. Most people don’t realize that the company only sold “one” product successfully for over 15 years before launching their second SKU. We don’t plan to wait that long as we have 2 follow-on products in R&D currently. We do have 2 follow-on products in the pipeline, but our primary focus the first 12 months is to get Libre into a few key markets starting with South Florida. The next product is another unique 1st mover RTD – you’ll love it!
Q: Why did you choose to produce a “Ready to Drink” (RT D) and what is unique about “Libre”?
Libre was inspired by the convenience of an aluminum can and absence of heavy glass– a pool deck or boat ’s worst enemy. We wanted to take the world’s most popular mixed drink in the history of drinks, the Cuba Libre, and turn it up a notch or two via single serve RTD form.
We chose the 12 oz. Ball 207.5 sleek can (same as Heineken Light) as the taller, more slender body personified our low-calorie positioning. Our largest consumer profile, as we know it thus far, is about 60% female ages 25-35. However, men and women of all ages seem to like the shape can, which happens to be less tall and less skinny as the 12 oz. Rexam sleek can used by Red Bull.
Libre’s unique “ trade dress”, the legal term of art for the can design, is an image of a Collins glass of rum & cola. No other company in the world has ever done this before and our lawyers tell us that we’re protected by the Lantham Act in the U.S. It was very difficult for Ball to print the high level of detail in only 5-colors, but they did a great job for us leveraging their Eyeris® printing technology.
Q: Why did you decide to call your RT D “Libre”?
Rum & Coke®, as the readers may or may not know, is by definition a “Cuba Libre” according to the legend of Bacardi® – white rum, cola & wedge of lime. We simply invented the “Tico Libre™”, a high quality, low-calorie Costa Rican version of the Cuba Libre – we use dark (or amber) aged rum, zero calorie cola with a wedge of lemon vs. lime. But for marketing purposes, and with all due respect to Ticos (a Costa Rican native) who just had an amazing World Cup soccer win, we dropped Tico to create Libre Rum & Cola®.
Libre means “freedom” in Spanish and French – think freedom from having to mix your rum & cola cocktail or freedom from unwanted calories (by using zero calorie cola). Our goal with this first mover product is to have rum & cola fans make the bar call one day – “I’ll have a Libre!” Not a Cuba Libre, not rum & Coke, not a rum & cola.
Q: Why was it important to you to develop a low-calorie RTD? Is there a high demand from consumers for low-calorie drinks?
Having traded and researched Consumer Products companies for many years, I did a lot of bed time reading and discovered that rum was one of the fastest growing spirits and low-calorie RTDs were also trending very strong as evidenced from the wildly successful Skinnygirl brand sale to Beam in 2011.
I also discovered that single-serve RTDs (vs large 750ML bottles) were a new, emerging category– just walk inside any liquor store and count the number of single-serve RTDs on one hand. I actually walked into a Winn-Dixie liquor store in South Florida today and guess how many single-serve distilled spirits RTDs I counted? 0 – I’m not kidding. Many of those RTDs I did see on shelves really weren’t low-calorie…. Many brands cheat by having small, partial, 4 oz. serving sizes. And many use corn syrup vs. real cane sugar. Libre’s Mission Statement, by comparison, is to artfully craft the world’s 1st low-calorie aged rum & cola in a 12 oz can. No added sugar, no artificial sweeteners – leveraging our current co-branding relationship with the amazing and talented team at Cargill’s Truvia® - made from Stevia leaf extract.
We wanted 100% of Libre’s calories to be derived from a shot of high quality, 3 -year aged rum. At 6.5% ABV that equates to only 130 calories per can – about 1/3 the calories of other so-called “skinny” cocktails. Libre is very refreshing with great mouth feel – no lingering sugar on the tongue and no funky artificial sweetener taste on the back-end.
Q: Why did you decide to go with an aged rum?
We wanted to be the 1st rum & cola RTD in the world to use a more mature 2+yr aged rum for a better tasting, smoother finish – we didn’t want to sacrifice quality and become another cheap tasting, flavored malt cocktail seeking one thing only – high profit margins. We took Maurice Kanbar’s advice, the founder of SKYY, and settled on making a much better product for consumers at an honest profit margin.
The rum quality, as you and Luis can testify better than anyone, makes all the difference in the world when making a traditional rum & cola (Cuba Libre) cocktail. Most young, white rums tend to have a bitter taste – and we won’t mention famous brand names.
During the financial crisis we had too much free time on our hands so we drank our sorrows away and tested every available bottle of rum sold in Costa Rica, or Duty Free, mixed with Coke Zero (vs Diet Coke). We discovered that added sugar only interfered with the taste and quality of the rum, which, as you and Luis know best, is a spirit derived from sugarcane or molasses. Of these dozens of excellent rums, we found a winner – a specific Central American aged, amber rum that seemed to be a crowd favorite when mixed with cola. And so that specific rum flavor profile became the pilot for the final 3-year aged rum blend used in every can of Libre Rum & Cola.
Q: What were some of the challenges you faced when trying to produce “Libre”?
When we debuted at the 2012 Miami Rum Festival for Beta testing, we thought we’d be ready to produce our first run within 12 months. Savvy industry execs warned us to expect about 24 months before Libre is ready for sale. They were spot on and we were dead wrong. I’d be a lair if I told you that we didn’t have any challenges…
Delay #1: Libre’s first misconception was – our consumers will want only 99 calories per can, a very light cocktail. Well, we discovered 6 months into Beta testing that they actually wanted more rum for a better buzz (as they told us) and didn’t care about an extra 30-50 calories “as long its under 200 calories per can”. That threw off formulation efforts and our timeline.
Delay #2: Packaging design – after surveying consumers, we found they liked Libre’s unqiue ‘cola collins glass’ image but didn’t care for the original logo. So, we launched a contest on www.99designs.com and had our Facebook fans choose the final, winning logo. More delay.
Delay #3: We started with a 12 oz. sleek Rexam can and were unexpectedly forced to change can makers (for reasons we’d rather not print) to Ball. Well, that can size change created a big problem for Libre – we had to change co-packers since the original co-packer equipment didn’t work with the new can diameter. This required Libre to amend its www.ttb.gov paperwork. More delay.
Delay #4: Formula modification – Libre was ready to bottle when it received an unexpected letter from TTB demanding that Libre modify its previously approved formula (for reasons we’d rather not print). Luckily we were able to continue using the 200,000 cans that were patiently sitting at Ball’s warehouse, waiting to get filled. However, the communication and settlement with TTB set us back another quarter. More delay.
Finally, any start-up company can attest to Libre’s last challenge – capital raising efforts.We learned that its crucial to have many lines in the water at all times. When you think you have a capital source lined up, pretend you never met them and have Plan B & C in the works. Like an episode of “Shark Tank” (yes, we auditioned in Orlando, FL, had our photos taken, but didn’t make the cut) - every investor wants to see sales and proof of concept. Securing Angel capital is not an easy task, but we obviously succeeded in raising the most difficult tranche of capital: Product Development. After 2+ years, and after 21+ formulas,we went onto commercialization and produced Libre Run #1 on June 7, 2014.
Q: What kind of shelf life does “Libre” have?
Libre is a first mover product – we’re the first in the world to create a naturally sweetened low-calorie, (we don’t like the word diet) aged rum & cola RTD. Unlike a rum & diet made with artificial sweeteners like Sucralose and Aspartame with low shelf life of about 6 months, our formula has been tested at 18 months and was stable in flavor.
We got very lucky with the help of our co-branding partner - America’s largest privately held company, Cargill, and a few of the largest flavor houses in the world. Our all -star food science team cracked the code leveraging Truvia® - they created a long shelf life, which is unheard of for a rum & diet RTD and, more importantly, we added a secret ingredient in every can of Libre Rum & Cola® to create a refreshing, sugar-like, creamy mouth feel. As a major hotel chain told us at tasting meeting – “Libre can’t be replicated. Why? Every diet cola we have at the bar will contain artificial sweeteners, and yours doesn’t ”. How cool is that, we thought.
Q: Where are you currently selling “Libre” and how is it being sold to consumers, as a single can, pack of 4 cans, 6 -pack, etc…?
Since Libre is a distilled spirits product, we can only sell in liquor stores in Florida, along with ‘on-premise’ locations that have a liquor license (vs beer & wine only). Other states, like California and Illinois, permit liquor to be sold in grocery and convenience stores. Those should be our higher volume selling states.
Libre will retail as singles at around $2.99 and in 4-packs targeted at $9.99. Instead of buying a 2-liter of cola, a heavy bottle of rum housed in unfriendly glass, a lemon or lime (did you bring the knife to the beach?) – why not pick up a 4 -pack of Libre and throw it in the cooler with your beers, water bottles or soda? It’s the perfect RTD to bring along to a party and fairly priced for an ultra-premium RTD cocktail (vs a malt or flavored beer product). We’re exploring the keg as a future delivery method – for (21+) off-campus parties and events, and for those pubs looking to serve a low-cal, beer alternative to customers.
Q: I know your RTD is meant to be consumed straight out of the can, but have you also come up with some fun and exciting cocktails that consumers can enjoy with“Libre”?
Libre is not just the world’s most popular mixed drink in can, but it’s a few notches above a traditional ‘Cuba Libre’ cocktail - using 3-year aged rum and only the finest natural flavors and ingredients. That being said, we certainly don’t want Libre diluted in a cup of ice! It's meant to be slowly sipped right out of the can. Unlike a flavored beer (malt) with high sweet acid, its light and refreshing. Some fans even point out the satisfying aroma of an empty can of Libre – citrus and aged rum notes at test to the high quality ingredients.
So, take your can out of the fridge or cooler, throw on a Koozie so your hands don’t warmup the aluminum can, pop the top and insert in a cool yellow, bendy straw. Sip and enjoy! The product is great “as-is” – no need for a rum topper as she contains no added sugar and some natural caffeine in the cola base. The Libre buzz factor (we’re told) is pretty darn good vs, a heavy craft beer, and we want our fans drinking responsible and not driving while enjoying their Libre. In fact, that new controversial website Uber comes to mind!
Q: Do you have any future plans of producing other rum-based RTD’s?
We have 2 follow-on products in the pipeline, but our primary focus the first 12 months of sales is to get Libre into a few key markets starting in South Florida. The next product is another unique 1st mover RTD – you’ll love it! Light, refreshing, nothing artificial about its made with the same 3-year aged rum blend. As long as our stock of secretly stored aged rum is available, we’ll never compromise rum quality even if it means lower gross margins to our company. But all of Libre’s follow-ons will be rum-based products only.
Q: If people want to contact you or want to know how to get a hold of “Libre”, how may they reach you?
Best way to reach us, just visit the contact page at www.librerumcola.com and shoot us a message, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or dial 786.563.3522. We encourage smaller, state distributors to work with us and would love to have rum & cola fans contact their local liquor stores and request Libre! Let’s create a buzz. Our initial distribution in South Florida will be with www.parkstreet.com, an awesome importer, distributor, advisor and back-office services company based in Miami, Florida.
Q: Is there a message or comment you would like to share with our readers?
Thanks, Margaret. I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to tell our story. Libre’s Product Development phase has been amazing journey and we embrace the commercialization process– from a pipe dream in Costa Rica, to importing the rum barrels from Central America and recently producing our first run here in the USA. It ’s still a blur to me.
We’d also like to thank our Facebook fans and trade show consumers for their invaluable feedback– all of you, not a controlled focus group used by most large corporations, made Libre what it is today! We’re grateful for your survey time and we exist, in final form, because of you – from the logo contest, to the final level of rum, sweetener and citrus in each can. We didn’t hire ‘industry experts’ to do this for us; it was the rum & cola consumer (like you).
And to those entrepreneurs contemplating a new product launch, rum-based or not, and those currently enduring growing pains with their new brand, as we have the past 2+ years, I’d like to share a great Thomas Edison quote that inspired me to get out of bed, stay focused and move the ball forward: “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”