Tell us more about your business:
Chalong Bay is the only rum distillery in Phuket, and this adventure started in 2010.
Chalong Bay was born from the dream of two passionate 24-year-old French entrepreneurs, Marine Lucchini and Thibault Spithakis, who aspired to bring the French Caribbean heritage of pure sugarcane rum distillation back to the original birthplace of sugarcane, combining sustainable production methods and artisanal craftsmanship, while partnering with local farmers to grow the sugarcane with respect of the environment and community.
Southeast Asia is the birthplace of sugarcane, and Thailand is the fourth-largest producer of sugarcane in the world. While over 95% of the world’s rum is made from molasses, a by-product of sugar production, the founders decided to use first-press natural organic Thai sugarcane, giving their rum a unique, smooth, and fruity Thai tropical taste. Their commitment to using pure Thai sugarcane and natural Thai herbs and spices has resulted in a portfolio of distinct rum flavors that promote Thai terroir and culinary culture, including Pure Sugarcane, Lemongrass, Thai Sweet Basil, Cinnamon, Kaffir Lime, White Spiced, and Barrel Aged.
Today, Chalong Bay is the fourth player in the premium rum market in Thailand and has won multiple international spirit awards. In 2022, the French Government recognized the founders’ work on sustainability, on marrying heritages and traditions, as well as their commitment to promoting local terroir through premium products, with the title of “Chevalier de l’Ordre du Mérite Agricole,” one of the highest recognitions given by the French Ministry of Agriculture
Can you tell us more about the founders?
Thibault’s grandfather founded a wine cooperative in France in the 1950s and grew up growing grapes, whereas Marine grew up surrounded by spirits with her family working in distribution. Combined with their passion for entrepreneurship and their education in business management, Marine and Thibault decided to make their dream come true.
“My father distributed rum Agricole in Africa when I was a little girl and then we all moved to Russia at the fall of the USSR, where both my parents worked in the industry, and developed the distribution of Remi Cointreau. I grew up around spirits and passion for their story, making, tastes, and brands. I was fascinated by the making of spirits, I also loved biology as a teenager and always wanted to integrate this into my career path. The science and art of making a spirit from scratch in a premium and sustainable way passionate me. Developing premium sustainable spirits from natural ingredients, promoting the Thai terroir, and marrying its treasures with the French tradition of distillation resonate deeply in me and became my mission and my motor. In addition, I find people in the F&B industry to be very passionate and it feels great to be part of this community.
It should also be noted that we wouldn’t be where we are today if it weren’t for the support and dedication of our like-minded, passionate Thai partners Khun Dao, Khun Lek, and Khun Paeng. Together, we brought the dream of Chalong Bay to fruition, built a family, support communities, and created a whole new spirit that unites us.”
What challenges have you faced/ are you facing?
“Building a distillery from scratch at a young age without big investments in a foreign country is challenging in many aspects. Finding people to believe in this dream, invest, and/or work with us was the first challenge. Limited funding is an obstacle as the team can only grow as fast or as much as the business’s financial situation allows, and it’s been many years of doing everything by ourselves… In this case, our limits are only our own. It’s also exciting because it pushes us to go beyond our own doubts and limiting beliefs and t push them constantly. Think that we can make it and we will make it, even starting with and from nothing.
Funding the business is also a significant challenge since it is a long-term and risky project that requires heavy investment and reinvestment every year.
Another big obstacle was proving legitimacy and quality as well as opening a market that did not exist. When we started this project 12 years ago, there was no premium spirit made in Thailand and no craft scene. Both Thais and foreigners had a bad image of spirits made in Thailand, and international products and big brands were much more valued than local craft ones. It took us years, a lot of communication, opening the distillery, many gold medals at international spirit competitions, and recognition from international spirit experts to shift this general belief and prove the legitimacy of making a cane spirit in Thailand. Being a young woman did not make it easier. Sugarcane was born in Southeast Asia, and Thailand is the world’s fourth largest producer of sugarcane. The Thai terroir offers many agricultural treasures. What more legitimate than making a qualitative sugarcane rum in the birthplace of sugarcane?
The spirit market in Thailand is quite challenging too. It consists of a few very large actors with a lot of power that limit the penetration and distribution capabilities of smaller ones.
There are also a lot of barriers to entry in terms of production regulations that limit the capabilities and opportunities of small players to grow and develop quality consumption of local products. It limits our ability to be competitive, our speed of development, and the variety of products we can offer. However, this just gives us more drive to be creative.
Additionally, we have been lucky enough to work with a local administration that takes an interest in our vision and supports us in our journey to be fully compliant.”
– What opportunities is the business/market facing?
“Opening a new market is a challenge but being a pioneer positions us as a leader as well. So, our challenge is also our opportunity. The local craft spirit and cocktail scenes are developing, Thailand’s economy is also developing positively, and we are happy to be part of this dynamic.
We have the opportunity to develop premium craft spirits from Thailand. With the same values and methods, we have also crafted and recently launched a gin – Saneha, as well as a Thai Jasmine Rice Vodka – Lanna.
Our opportunity is now to manage our international development. It’s also a challenge as we have a sustainable approach, use only natural products without chemicals, pay our farmers significantly better than the sugar industry does, and end up having higher costs than molasses-based rums (95% of the world’s rum production), or bigger players.”
– Can you share some lessons that you learned from running this business and some advice to others?
“It all starts within us.
We are our own limitation, we can do everything we set ourselves to do, all we got to do is to believe in ourselves, jump, and then take it a step at a time, be patient as nothing is built overnight, and never give up. Everything is possible, our mindset and the way we see things are essential and we can shape them with willpower.
Believe in yourself, and do not let what others may say of you or your dream negatively influence you or limit you. Feel the fire you have within and express that. Consistency is key. There is a solution to every problem, and difficulties are often gifts in disguise. Know your weaknesses, and don’t be shy.”
-Where to find out more about your products?
If you are more of a gin fan, we invite you to discover Saneha, our Thai Jungle Essence on https://saneha-global.com/
We would like to thank you very much for interviewing us. All the best to you!