The story starts in 2015. I am working for a management consultancy based in Redhill. They have won a contract with the World Bank to support businesses across 15 Caribbean countries. Lucky me, I am selected as the project manager! One of the first things we did was a scoping mission. I spent time learning about businesses in large Caribbean countries such as Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and smaller islands like Montserrat, Antigua and Barbuda. While I collected fridge magnets for my Mum, I spent time in bars and shops sampling and collecting the region’s best alcohol.
This started my love affair with rum, and my appreciation for alcohol in general. Naturally, I graduated and became a regular attendee of RumFest trying to taste anything and everything. The record number of people I managed to take along with me was 15. In between RumFests I soaked up all the knowledge at masterclasses, read books on alcohol production, visited distilleries and toured museums. My distillery tours took me to Matugga Rum in Livingstone, Scotland, 1000 Hills in Kigali, Rwanda, Hennessey in Cognac, France, and OK distilling in Oklahoma, USA.
The affair affected everyone I knew that would be travelling. I’d beg them to pick up alcohol wherever they went – but really, I was after rum.
Discovering the right product
This habit ensures I have a well-stocked alcohol cupboard when friends and family came to visit. While cleaning up at the end of a night with friends, I found that they had drunk me out of my favourite bottle of rum. It was a gorgeous barrel-aged rum from South Africa.
I ordered a couple more bottles and did some unorthodox consumer testing. My favourite story is when I took it to the Devonshire Club. I was there meeting some old friends. As is my habit, I gave them some to try and ended up doing an impromptu tasting with members. They asked me if the rum was available in the UK and if could I do something for their members. I said, “no, not yet – but I will be back when it is.” That’s when I knew I had something. I had been exploring how to create my product, but I stumbled upon something great. Why not just import it?
Creating Value Africa
Having pivoted from producing my spirit, I had to develop a brand which would best represent what I wanted to achieve. I settled on Value Africa. On one hand, the company is a call to action for consumers outside of Africa. People must value the culture, craftsmanship and companies exporting from Africa. On the other hand, it acts as a selection process – we only represent companies where value is added on the continent.
Legal & Compliance
While I thought there was a business– I wasn’t prepared for how much work and how prominent HMRC was going to become in my life. A quick search on the internet told me that I needed an EORI, WOWGR, AWRS, Personal Alcohol Licence, and to register for the privilege to apply DUTY Stamps on our bottles. Alongside that, I needed to undertake due diligence, develop risk and financial models, and negotiate contracts with suppliers. I made it a non-negotiable business process to visit suppliers, build relationships and ensure that the businesses I took on represented Africa correctly.
By 2020, I was ready. I had managed to save some capital and took the time to learn about the
industry. Covid was just starting. Like most people, I thought it was going to be short-lived but the following years turned everything I planned upside down.
I had a couple of opportunities, which fell through. One opportunity passed by because the producer signed a deal with another supplier and another because of a trademark issue with a Northern Irish distillery. Delays with our AWRS and WOWGR meant that we couldn’t sell wholesale. Global shipping and inflation price increases broke our financial models and South Africa banned the export of alcohol.
Like any good business, we remained patient, continued to test the market and pivoted. We had tremendous success testing our product at Imbibe, Black Business Show, Taste of London, and selling online and at various Christmas markets. We have also had a shout-out from a Dragon, Sarah Willingham. She called us her “Highlight… Incredible product, great guys, great story. Go see them!”
So, what happened to that Barrel aged rum? The rum which took a small house party in London by storm, and started this business? It is due to land in 2023 and we can’t wait for you to try it!