Show some humility, says CEO of Renaud Cointreau

Owners of traditional products such as champagne and cognac need to show some humility in their dealings with new emerging markets, according to the president and CEO of Groupe Renaud Cointreau.

Jean-Pierre Cointreau was speaking at a lunch in London to unveil two of the company’s new products, Champagne Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs and Cognac Frapin Signature.

Cointreau was commenting on how many traditional products are used and consumed in different markets and different cultures. He cited an example of seeing a wedding celebration in Asia where bottles of cognac were lined up down the middle of the table. In Europe, he said you would have expected to see champagne as the aperitif.

He said: “We export to 80 countries and the more we travel the more we discover new behaviours and new ways of drinking.

“We need to show some humility sometimes when we see how people like your products to be drunk,” he said.

Talking specifically about cognac, he said: “Some have it with water; some have it chilled. In the US they have it in cocktails.”

He commented that in Scandinavia and parts of central and eastern Europe, (spirits) drinkers “understand what spirits are”.

On champagne and his brand Gosset, Cointreau said they promoted the brand as a wine and one that matches well with food. He expressed scepticism at the “bling, bling market” where champagne marques court personalities to promote their brands.

He said: “Champagne Gosset is not in the brand system. It is a true product. It is a wine. We try not to compete with the big brands.

“We have limited production, about 1 million bottles, which we will increase but through steady, consistent growth always looking for the quality,” he said.

Cointreau was also critical of the prices some champagnes were being offered at. He said the average price for a bottle of champagne in the UK was just £14.50 (€16.50, US$23). In the French supermarket chain, E. Lerclerc, champagne had been sold for as little as €5.95 (US$8.50, £5.25). “That does not pay for the grape,” quipped Cointreau.

While the Asian markets of Japan, Hong Kong, mainland China and Korea were important to Gosset and Frapin, Cointreau said he believed it was important for the company to be strong in its own domestic market. He said France as a percentage of Frapin’s total sales was three times that of total cognac sales in France (3.1%).

“We have a focus on France. We want to be recognised in France as making good cognac and champagne.