Spirit’s dis­tillers seek deeper mar­kets

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODEATING -

MARTINNE GELLER

COGNAC: France’s cen­turies-old cognac houses are rais­ing their bets on the US mar­ket with new prod­ucts and cam­paigns to broaden the drink’s ap­peal be­yond its African Amer­i­can strong­hold.

The big four pro­duc­ers – LVMH Moet Hen­nessy, Remy Coin­treau, Pernod Ri­card and Beam Sun­tory – have turned more of their at­ten­tion to the US af­ter a drop in sales in China af­ter an anti-graft cam­paign.

On its home turf cognac is seen as the drink of choice for ma­ture gen­tle­men but in the US it is of­ten en­joyed by sta­tus-con­scious rev­ellers in­spired by hip-hop name­drop­ping songs like Busta Rhymes’ Pass the Cour­voisier.

Black cul­ture’s taste for cognac, which comes only from the area around the western French town of that name, dates back at least to the time when US sol­diers vis­ited jazz- mad Paris bars dur­ing the world wars. Back home it was an al­ter­na­tive to Amer­i­can whiskey, of­ten made in southern states with his­to­ries of slav­ery.

The African Amer­i­can com­mu­nity ac­counted for nearly twothirds of all cognac drunk in the world’s big­gest mar­ket, say ex­ec­u­tives and an­a­lysts. Yet that’s now chang­ing.

Pro­duc­ers of the drink, made by dis­till­ing white wine and age­ing it in oak bar­rels for any­where from two to dozens of years, now need to reach other groups.

“We don’t want cognac just to be for one cat­e­gory of per­son,” Remy Martin ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Au­gustin Depar­don said.

A new cam­paign fea­tur­ing Hol­ly­wood ac­tor Jeremy Ren­ner, one of the stars of The Avengers, was aimed at a broader au­di­ence.

Hen­nessy, Remy Martin, Martell and Cour­voisier make 85 per­cent of all cognac, and they are com­pet­ing harder than ever, try­ing to har­ness the cur­rent boom in “brown spir­its” like bour­bon and rum.

Euromon­i­tor fore­casts US re­tail cognac sales of $5.2 bil­lion (about R74bn) in 2015, up 9 per­cent from last year. That would see it sur­pass the Chi­nese mar­ket, which it es­ti­mates will have lost 36 per­cent of its value since a peak of $7.8bn in 2012.

The com­pa­nies are also try­ing to push cognac into cock­tails. To that end, Hen­nessy has launched Hen­nessy Black, which it says is bet­ter for cock­tails as it has a del­i­cate taste that eases mix­a­bil­ity and a stronger al­co­hol con­tent that can with­stand di­lu­tion.

De­spite ef­forts to broaden their mar­ket, the brands will be tread­ing care­fully so as not to alien­ate their core au­di­ence, hav­ing seen how quickly Cristal cham­pagne fell from grace in 2006 af­ter a boy­cott by hip-hop mogul Jay-Z, who is now a backer of Bac­ardi’s new cognac D’Usse. – Reuters

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