Mouton Cadet to double sales in China to hit five million bottles

Veronique Hombroekx, the new managing director of Baron Philippe de Rothschild’s branded wines division, has ambitiously declared Mouton Cadet is aiming to double its annual sales in China to five million bottles.

Veronique Hombroekx

One of the major French players in the global wine trade with worldwide sales of over 11 million bottles per year, Mouton Cadet, is also looking to regain much of its lost market share in the United States as well as gain a bigger foothold in the United Kingdom.

Amid jubilant scenes at Le Golf National near Versailles on Sunday when Europe’s golfers regained the Ryder Cup from the United States, those spectators among the 50,000 present, who enjoyed a glass of wine, drank exclusively from Mouton Cadet’s range of red, white and rosé. For, with Mouton Cadet continuing their partnership role as ‘official wine’ for the tournament after first assuming it at Gleneagles in 2014, no other wines were sold on the course or in the tented village.

The value of raising brand awareness by close association with iconic sporting events like the Ryder Cup and cricket’s Ashes series between England and Australia has regularly been demonstrated. While Mouton Cadet are undecided whether to continue as tournament partner for the next home Ryder Cup in Rome in 2022, Hombroekx has focussed her attention on ‘people and terroir’ as she puts it, after a period of assessment when she joined the company in January this year. 

“I needed time to observe, go around and smell the company and the market as that was pretty new for me,” she said from Mouton Cadet’s hospitality lounge overlooking the 16th green. “We need to to understand the consumer not just in France but also in Japan, China, US and UK. For my aim of adopting a winning strategy for Mouton Cadet, we decided a couple of months ago to refocus our strategy around people and terroir, because behind Mouton Cadet, you have a lot of people: around 300 growers, and all from the Bordeaux appellation only”.

Hombroekx’s idea to invite every one of the company’s growers to convene together in Bordeaux in the summer proved a huge success.

“They all came together on 14 June – it had never happened before,” she continued. “We talked about our vision, and how we want to be more sustainable over the next generation. We learnt a lot – the human touch is back again in the heart of our strategy. They never knew each other, but we decided on a new app so that they can all talk together about problems and suggestions, and connect. Our ambition is to make this a big family.”

Mouton Cadet’s team of seven ‘flying’ winemakers, led by Pierre Lambert are on hand to help the growers. Lambert and the American oenologist, Chiara Mondavi, got together to make a special limited edition Mouton Cadet Ryder Cup red wine from ’the best 12 different Bordeaux cuvées available to us’. Currently on sale at selected outlets in key markets, it is a clever marketing idea, although demand in the the US may not be too high after America’s defeat.

Despite a marked drop in sales in the States over the last two years – from 4 million bottles per annum to 400,000 – Mouton Cadet have managed a global increase between 3-5% over each of the last five years. Underpinning that rise have been higher exports to China, where distribution has been enhanced by Mouton Cadet’s alliance there with Treasury Wine Estates (TWE) last November. “TWE is the best partner you can have in China,” Hombroekx professed.

Hombroekx is very clear on her Chinese ambitions. “The target is to double exports there within five years. Mouton Cadet is a real story to them…as you know in China, you need a story and must have credibility. We have 88 years of history behind the brand, going back to 1930 when Baron Philippe de Rothschild had the idea that people can have a good quality wine at an affordable price.”

Mouton Cadet’s digital alliance with Alibaba in China and the 1919 Store is ‘working incredibly’ according to Hombroekx.

“You order your wine online and within 19 minutes, you can have their delivery from the shop to your house by courier,” she added. “It’s very active in Shanghai, and other big cities. That shows how the route to market in China is very diverse but accessibility and visibility is the key. You must educate all those people – the store manager, the guy working in the supermarket, the guy in charge of e-commerce – and one of our winemakers is going over to do a tasting with them. The wine business there is all about shake hands, make friends and sell wine”.

America is Hombroekx’s other big market in her sights. “We were very successful in the USA,” she sighed. “The big golden years were completely declining as no one was putting enough attention in. When you look blindly at your success you don’t see your competition. This is probably what happened. Our price point of around $13-15 is very good but there were a lot of alternatives to Mouton Cadet. If you are not active in the market, you lose market share, and now we must rebuild. We need to reposition ourselves towards the 28 to 40-year olds, which is the age group we have lost. We need to be much more digital than before, and convince people about the quality of Mouton Cadet, and be very humble.”

When I ask about the UK, Hombroekx is candid. “It’s a difficult price market, but we can do better and have the opportunity for growth there in both retail and the on-trade,” she replied. “I’m not sure about brand awareness there, but we need to raise it by more than just the Ryder Cup. I go there on 12 October, and will need to understand what to do differently to be successful there.”

Consumers who favour minimal intervention in winemaking will be interested to know that Mouton are aiming to eliminate CMR (carcinogenic, mutagenic, reprotoxic) substances from their partner growers’ vine treatment programmes. Helping them achieve HE3 certification (High Environment Value Level 3) is also planned.

“Organically-farmed wines are not really the solution for us,” Hombroekx declared. “We take sustainability as the approach. Not to use any CMR is one of our big challenges. It’s big because if the quality of the wine cannot cope with this new restriction, that’s an issue for us. Sustainability and quality together is what we want, but we must make sure we can cope.” With the capable Hombroekx at the helm, there is every chance the company will do.

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