Champagne must do more to promote its unique characteristics as competition from other sparkling wines intensifies, believes Bollinger’s UK importer.
Champagne needs to do more to promote it key attributes, believes Andrew Hawes, MD at UK Bollinger importer, Mentzendorff
During a lunchtime discussion with the drinks business late last month, Andrew Hawes, who heads up Mentzendorff, Bollinger’s UK importer, said that he would like to see Champagne as a whole start to strongly communicate its attributes in Britain, particularly as sales of quality sparkling wines continue to increase in this market.
“Champagne doesn’t speak enough about where it is,” he said, initially, explaining that the region should stress the fact it’s a designated area with strict quality controls – something key to Champagne.
He also said that Champagne should inform consumers about the industry’s use of reserve wines, because this further differentiates the famous French fizz from other sparkling wines, few of which have built up stocks of older wines to assist in the creation of a consistent non-vintage style.
“The role of reserve wines is massively important…. You couldn’t say there is a consistent Bollinger NV taste without them; the wines would vary every vintage,” he explained.
Furthermore, Champagne should tell consumers about how it’s made using a secondary fermentation in the bottle, primarily to promote its point of difference compared to tank method sparkling, such as Prosecco.
“Champagne should articulate that every bottle goes through the Champagne method; it should communicate the fact that 300 million bottles are essentially hand made,” he said.
Continuing he stressed, “Champagne has fantastic assets as a region and a generic brand… the industry should do more to communicate what makes Champagne so special.”
Hawes added that he was not being critical of the work of Le Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne (CIVC), but merely that he wanted to see more emphasis on the promotion of the sparkling’s virtues.
Meanwhile, the CIVC said that its work to advance the image and sales of Champagne worldwide was jointly agreed by the growers and brands in the region.
“The Champagne corporate communications activities are implemented by the Comité Champagne joint trade association,” said Thibaut le Mailloux, director of communication for the Comité Champagne.
“They are formulated jointly by Champagne growers and Champagne houses, each represented on an equal basis within the organisation; the policy therefore reflects their requirements,” he added.
For Hawes however, Champagne must respond to the increase in the number of quality sparkling alternatives from around the world.
In the past year, volume sales of sparkling wine in the UK off-trade rose by 8%, while Champagne sales decreased by 2% (Nielsen MAT 04.01.14).
“The strongest trend in the UK is the growth in sparkling wine,” he said.
“In the past this has been positive for Champagne, for instance, in the late 80s and 90s recession, there was a boost in sales of Australian sparkling, but after that recession, people traded up to Champagne,” he added.
Continuing, he stated, “The question now, is that while there appears to be an economic up swing [in the UK], there are also are more quality alternatives, so Champagne shouldn’t take it for granted that the past will repeat itself.”
And whatever the nature of the competition, he also pointed out that today’s consumer expects more information about the products they buy.
“The consumer expects to be more informed, so Champagne as an industry needs to inform the consumer more, tell them why it should be Champagne,” he stated
Summing up, he said, “Sparkling wine is a real trend, it’s here, it’s massive, and we need to accept that and look for the positives.”
Then, identifying possible advantages from the expanding sparkling wine market, he added, “It’s a massive opportunity for Champagne, an opportunity to communicate to the new consumer what’s so special about Champagne.”
Currently though, he recorded “a sense of frustration,” among some in the region, because, he said “they are aware of the potential great messages, and would like to see them communicated more.”