Engarrafamento Pitú Ltda.’s tagline – “Pitú – The Brazilian Mania” – is far more than a slogan. It reflects a national passion for the cachaça, a spirit distilled from sugar cane. Paula Menna Barreto Hall raises a glass to the company’s ambition and quality commitment, which helped it introduce the world to one of life’s sweetest pleasures.
The large numbers reflect a global spread – from Latin America to the rest of the world. Brazil boasts more than 40,000 Cachaça producers that offer 4,000 brands.
What’s Cachaça? It’s pronounced kah-SHAH-sah, and it’s a major economic force in Brazil. Its popularity led to an industry that employs more than 600,000 people and produces about 1.2 billion liters annually. Exportation generates nearly $16 million in revenue each year, according to the Brazilian government.
Obviously, Cachaça is one of Brazil’s most popular spirits – indeed a natural resource. One company – the 73-year-old, family-based Engarrafamento Pitú Ltda. – produces 90 million liters each year. Known simply as Pitú, the business is headquartered in Brazil’s northeastern state of Pernambuco, and it’s the leading exporter of cachaça, distributing its product to more than 60 countries, including the United States and European nations.
The company, whose product is best described as a sugar cane spirit, is its region’s sales leader, and its product quality is unsurpassed (in 2010, Pitu garnered two significant awards: Cachaça Master and the World Spirits Gold Medal).
IT’S NOT RUM!
The United States represents the world’s second largest cachaça market – Brazil, obviously, remains the largest – and Pitú’s highly desired product is currently available in at least 32 American states. But success involves a significant challenge. According to American government legislation, sugar cane spirit is considered a type of rum, the “Brazilian Rum.”
“But Cachaça is not rum,” says Marias das Vitórias Cavalcanti, Pitú’s director of external affairs. A chemical engineer and third-generation family member related to Pitú founders, Cavalcanti describes how the difference resides in the process: “Rum is usually made from molasses, a sugar cane byproduct that comes from refineries that boil the cane juice to extract as much crystal sugar as possible. Cachaça is made from fresh sugar cane juice that is fermented and distilled prior to crystallization.”
She explains why her company and other cachaça producers are so vehement about this point: Rum can be produced anywhere in the world, but cachaça is a Brazilian Indication of Origin and can only be produced in Brazil.
WORKING THE MARKET
With the distinction, Cachaça producers hope their product achieves elevated status in the United States – similar to what Mexico achieved with its tequila and France achieved with its sparkling wine (which it can call “champagne.”)
Pitú, with its eyes open to the American market, and seeking to raise interest in Brazilian culture, is one of the leading companies spearheading the process to secure the due distinction from rum and the status of Brazilian Indication of Origin, Cachaça Brasil. This will help it increase sales by 20 percent in the next few years, the company hopes.
As part of its strategy to expand the brand in the American market, the company has joined APEX, the Brazilian Trade and Investment Promotion Agency, to participate in a business project held during the Formula Indy races this year.
Further, the company is promoting tastings in the main markets, a huge element of its strategy. That’s why distribution is so important. It allows as many people as possible to try the Pitú product, which is available in most states in the country. “The past four years of hard work is now paying off,” says Cavalcanti.
HISTORY AND TRADITION
Cachaça was brought to Brazil in the 16th century by the Portuguese colonizers, the first to plant sugar cane in Fernando de Noronha island and in Sao Vicente. As good consumers of the Portuguese bagaceira and wines, they distilled the wine from sugar cane, which was initially called garapa azeda and later Cachaça, says Cavalcanti.
Today, Cachaça is the world’s third most consumed spirit, and it’s Brazil’s most popular alcohol beverage. Pitú was established in 1938, and its history is closely tied to Cachaça’s history in Brazil. Pitú emphasizes the company’s tradition as one of its brand’s distinguishing factors. “The longer you do it, the better you make it,” Cavalcanti points out.
Aroma is a way to distinguish a good product, and the production process (particularly the single distillation) is a major factor, says Cavalcanti, who knows what she’s talking about: She’s the granddaughter of company founders. Further, she’s a chemical engineer, and she has specialized in bottling techniques and administration in the United Kingdom. Her family’s company is very traditional. Strict quality control governs its beverage production. In addition, Pitú’s numerous international quality certifications assure consumers that the company adheres to the most modern and effective methods. For instance, the product is submitted to a natural resting process in marrying tanks, a method that maintains a characteristic aroma and flavor.
Also, the company’s name and brand symbol underscores Pitú’s commitment to history and tradition. Pitú is the popular name of an ancient large shrimp found in fresh waters of Brazil, and these shrimp flourished in a small river upon the company’s property.
VARIETY OF VERSIONS
Pitú began its exportation operations in 1970. Today, products now found in several countries include different versions, including Silver, Gold, Cola and Lemon. But the traditional Silver remains its sales leader. “Abroad, what sells is ‘caipirinha’ and not Cachaça,” says Cavalcanti, referring to the Brazilian national drink made with cachaça, lime and sugar.
Globalization has made caipirinha the second most requested alcoholic drink in Germany, behind beer. Pitú Gold, the Cachaça premium version, is aged for two years in oak barrels. Pitúcola, the new soft spirit, is characterized by a mix of cachaça Pitú and cola flavor. It was developed to meet the demand of young consumers that wanted a cold and flavorful drink with low-alcohol content.
The company’s quality commitment extends to the upgrade of its facilities, which includes a modern laboratory.
Located in Vitória de Santo Antão, about 55 kilometers from Recife, the capital of Pernambuco state, Pitú’s factory encompasses approximately 56,000 square meters. This area is dividedinto spaces designated for Cachaça blending, water treatment (80 percent of the water the company catches from the river is duly treated and recycled, returning to its origin), residues treatment, bottling and packaging of cans and bottles.
To produce a high-quality product, Pitú maintains rigorous standards related to the planting, harvesting, milling, filtration, fermentation and distillation of its Cachaça. Even with 10 suppliers (who are strategically located in the Northeast region), Pitú has managed to maintain its high standards. “We supervise all suppliers each week, which involves non-stop testing, controlled by our consultants team of chemical and agronomic engineers” reports Cavalcanti, adding that the company will maintain its recipe of success in Brazil and overseas even as it invests in worldwide distribution and expansion of its brand.