To outsiders it must look like a showdown between David and Goliath.
The mayor of Gimli, Man. — population 5,500 — is asking the world's leading premium drink company to change the label of its hugely popular Crown Royal whisky.
The fishing and resort town, 76 kilometres north of Winnipeg, is the only place in the world where the premium rye is produced. But the label refers only to Toronto, where British owner Diageo has its head office.
Mayor Kevin Chudd wants the Crown Royal label to read "Distilled in Gimli, Manitoba.”
|Anders Kuusselka, Valhalla Studios, for Business Edge|
|Gimli Mayor Kevin Chudd is pushing his town's connections to Diageo, the British firm that distills its world-famous Crown Royal whisky in the plant on the banks of Lake Winnipeg.|
The Gimli-born resident insists it's not the beginning of a fierce battle, but simply a friendly appeal. "It's a very genuine request that will hopefully be given consideration by the company," Chudd says. "It means a lot to us."
The Diageo plant, owned by Seagram until four years ago, employs about 70 workers and had net sales of £6.7 billion ($13.57 billion Cdn) in the 2005 fiscal year. More than one million barrels of Crown Royal whisky are stored at the 36-year-old distillery. Production of the premium rye began in 1939 to mark a Canadian tour by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The royal couple was known for their love of fine whiskies.
One thousand barrels of Crown Royal are produced daily on the western shore of Lake Winnipeg. Slapping Gimli on the label would give the town global exposure, its mayor says.
"There's a lot of potential for us and the company, and for our province to benefit from this," Chudd says. "It can be a large tourist attraction for Manitoba, as well as a significant corporate entity for the province and taxpayers."
So far, Gimli's role in the production of the premium whisky is one of its best-kept secrets. The residents are better known for their Icelandic roots. The town is billed as the largest Icelandic settlement outside Iceland. An annual festival — called Islendingadagurinn — celebrates their heritage and attracts thousands of wannabe-Vikings every August long weekend.
Forging a more visible partnership with the Crown Royal brand makes sense, Chudd says, since Gimli is trying to promote the region's free-flowing artesian wells.
"Quality control and high standards are something Crown Royal is all about. That's what our community is all about when it comes to the water. Our water quality is very important. We have some of the purest water in the world. It's a very precious resource," he says. "We all stand for the same thing."
Diageo uses water from an underground aquifer to make Crown Royal whisky. On the company website, the company calls its supply "one of the purest sources of water, Canada's ancient Rocky Mountain glaciers."
The aquifer is not linked to Lake Winnipeg, Chudd explains. Often referred to as a prairie sea, this vast lake has made headlines in recent years for heightened e-coli levels.
Nearly three million litres of water are used daily in the production of Crown Royal. Chudd wants Gimli to be recognized for its role in the process - but he's not the only one.
Crown Royal whisky is distilled in Gimli, but bottled further east, in Amherstburg, Ont. Wayne Hurst, mayor of the southwestern Ontario town - population 22,000, 25 kilometres south of Windsor - says the bottling plant plays an important role in the community. He, too, would like to leave a mark on millions of bottles of booze.
Hurst is in favour of adding Amherstburg and Gimli to the Crown Royal label, but so far there hasn't been much talk locally about the initiative. "We'll take all the advertising help we can get in attracting visitors to our community," he says. "It's an idea worth exploring."
The mayor says residents are proud of the large, bold Crown Royal lettering on the side of the bottling plant that greets visitors entering the town.
Mark Harding, vice-president of corporate relations for Diageo in Canada, acknowledges the label change is "not just a Gimli issue" and would take into account the wishes of both towns. "We're proud of our Canadian whisky links in both Ontario and Manitoba," Harding says.
The company's other brands include Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker and Baileys.
The suggestion to alter the Crown Royal label has merit, Harding says, but a decision has not yet been reached. "It's still under consideration and we have no final date to make that decision," he says.
Changing the label would be a big undertaking, he adds. "We're still very proud of our links with Gimli," he says, "whether the name is on the label or not."
Gimli's proximity to corn-fields is one of the reasons the location was chosen in the first place, Harding says. Up to 50 different whiskies made from milled corn, rye and malted barley go into the Crown Royal blend. Each whisky is aged in oak barrels. About 10,000 bushels of grain are used in the product daily.
Since Crown Royal's greatest market is the United States, it makes sense the product is bottled closer to the American border, Harding says. Other top markets include Canada, France, Japan and Korea.
A push for label recognition has swirled around Gimli for years, but never gone further than coffee talk until now. City council is in the process of making a formal appeal.
They have support from locals including Pam Sigurdson, a florist who drives past the distillery every day on her way to work. She thinks a revised label would bring more tourists to Gimli, especially whisky connoisseurs. "Maybe people would actually like to see where Crown Royal is made - you never know."
For two summers now, staff at White Caps restaurant in Gimli have displayed Crown Royal advertising cards on their tables. Server Barbie Trink does her part to push the Manitoba-made spirit.
"I try to promote Crown Royal if somebody orders a rye," Trink says. "A lot of people who come here are amazed that this is where it comes from."
(Katie Chalmers-Brooks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)