Champagne and celebrity chefs, the perfect match?

Sparkling wine has been the industry success story of the decade – one that has dominated news headlines, helped to kickstart the English sparkling wine movement and propel Prosecco’s profile into orbit.

Francis Mallmann

Feature findings

> Several Champagne brands are shifting their focus away from traditional celebrities towards
more ‘authentic’ ambassadors – namely chefs.
> The UK on-trade has become a battleground for sparkling wine producers, with Champagne fighting for market share
with English sparkling wine
and Prosecco.
> Since 2013, Champagne has lost considerable market share in both volume and value to competitiors
in the UK on-trade, particularly Prosecco, with the impact more strongly felt at the lower end of
the market.
> Champagne in the premium on-trade is still in growth, according to Liberty Wines, and the potential of building sales of higher priced Champagne in the premium on-trade still exists, together with premium Prosecco.

In the past five years, spending on sparkling wine, including Champagne, in the premium UK on-trade has increased by 149% in value and by 130% in volume, according to Liberty Wines. Champagne remains the aspirational kingpin of sparkling wines, but the category has lost significant market share since 2013, as detailed on page 32 of this feature. As the quality and quantity of competitors increases, Champagne can no longer rely on the region’s historic credentials to carry it to the top of a wine list – they need to get creative – and celebrity chefs are becoming a growing presence.

Celebrity endorsements have long presented a powerful platform for marketers to raise consumer engagement and awareness of their brand. In the case of Champagne, film stars, sports personalities and music moguls have all played their part in furthering the category’s appeal. As far back as 1868, British music hall entertainer George Leybourne was commissioned by several Champagne houses to write and perform songs about Champagne, with one of his most notable numbers being Champagne Charlie.

In the 21st century, rapper Jay-Z proved a hugely influential figure, his preference for Cristal, leading to the brand’s popularity in the world of hip-hop. His affection cooled, however, and was transferred to Armand de Brignac – a brand he later bought for a reported $200 million – following a much publicised comment made by Louis Roederer’s CEO to which the rapper took offence (“We can’t forbid people from buying it”), but his impact on the brand’s trajectory remains.

In 2012, Moët & Chandon signed a five-year deal with tennis ace Roger Federer, replacing actor Scarlett Johannson, while G.H. Mumm more recently inked a deal with athlete Usain Bolt, appointing the sprinter to the position of CEO (chief entertainment officer).

But while all of these famous figures invite appeal to a brand, it’s easy to be cynical about their association, the dollar signs fixed in view, with celebrity associations becoming increasingly problematic. Consumers’ idea of luxury has changed. Authenticity, provenance and quality is key, and, in this context, celebrity endorsements can appear hollow, lacking credibility, and a
tad solicitous.

As Matthew McConaughey declared upon taking up the position of creative director for Wild Turkey Bourbon in 2016, if there’s one thing millennials don’t respond to, it’s over-marketing.

Victoria Carfantan, director of Champagne Bollinger UK, says: “Celebrities and influencers are an incredibly strong marketing tool for some brands, and can have huge impact on reach and engagement. However, brands need to be cautious when approaching the world of ‘influencers’, as consumers are savvy and are aware they are being paid to endorse their products.”

While subtle, this shift has not been lost on big brands, or the Champenois. While ‘traditional’ celebrity ambassadors remain, a number of major houses have turned their attention from the glitterati of Hollywood towards an equally talented, albeit more understated, crop of celebrities a little closer to home – chefs.

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