Bacardi-Martini Chile reported this weekend that sales of imported rum in Chile are growing fast and representing a threat to whiskey, Chile's most popular import liquor.

Imported rum sales jumped 37% in 2001, while vodka sales grew 15%. Whiskey imports, which make up 37% of Chile's imported liquor sales, grew just 1% last year. Whiskey sales total US$32.9m.

Bacardi-Martini Chile general manager Patricio Bauerle said the increased sales of rum and vodka were a result of marketing by large import companies.

Bauerle explained that Bacardi has competed head to head with Johnnie Walker.  Last year, Bacardi traditional rum and Bacardi Lemon together outsold Johnnie Walker's Red Label, which was the leading imported label up until 2000.

"The policy of Bacardi is to invest to grow, and that's why we are the best selling liquor brand in the world," Bauerle said.

Comercial Peumo Limitada product manager Juan Carlos Kaplan, whose company distributes Absolut Vodka, said that vodka's increased sales were because of globalisation, a growing sophistication of Chilean consumers and marketing efforts.  He said that a greater variety of prices in vodkas and rums has also given Chileans more choices.

"A vodka like Absolut aims to fill a niche of premium consumers, because Absolut is an aspirational brand," Kaplan said.