Champagne embraces direct to consumer sales

A growing number of Champagne producers are launching direct-to-consumer portals in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic in a bid to increase their online sales.

Anne Malassagne of AR Lenoble has embraced e-commerce

Traditionally, Champagne brands have almost exclusively relied on distributors and retailers to sell their wines, but as the hospitality sector continues to struggle, direct to consumer (DTC) channels have become an attractive way for producers to recuperate lost revenue.

“The Covid pandemic will undoubtedly change how we do business; our team created an e-commerce portal in September 2020, exclusively for the French market,” Anne Malassagne, co-owner of boutique Champagne house AR Lenoble, told db.

“The challenge is now to promote the online shop, while protecting our retail partners. DTC sales will become more important for Champagne generally, as consumers will appreciate a closer relationship with the grower. In the context of the current crisis, people are looking for something real.”

Malassagne added that the online channel offered the house’s products at “higher than shop prices,” so as not to offend their retailers.

This difficult balancing act is increasingly becoming the topic de jour in Champagne. “For a long time we avoided direct sales, as I preferred not to compete with our distributors,” Philipponnat’s president Charles Philipponnat, told db.

“But the evolution towards online sales has become inescapable. We launched our DTC platform in December, just for the domestic market. Thus far, our sales have been very encouraging – we partnered with the renowned chef Simone Zanoni as part of the introductory offer.”

According to Philipponnat, several other houses in Champagne are in the process of developing an e- commerce platform. “As we all know, online sales are a growing segment, hence DTC online sales are also becoming more important for Champagne,” he said.

The revolution is affecting all sectors of the market, from Grandes Marques to cooperatives. Several export directors who spoke to db described the movement as “long overdue”, as the pandemic inevitably accelerates the digitalisation of the global market.

“Our DTC shop was launched in April 2020, just as the first lockdown hit home,” said Champagne Palmer’s communication manager, Francois Demouy.

“It is a fantastic marketing tool for us; we are building customer loyalty, not only with existing consumers but also with new ones. We constantly analyse our sales data to learn about our audience.”

Moët Hennessy has been an important contributor to the growing DTC sector. The multinational launched an online platform in the UK market, called Clos19, in April 2017.

It has reportedly been highly successful during the pandemic, selling every luxury Champagne brand in the MH portfolio, including rare older vintages of Dom Pérignon.

However, not all Champagne brands share Demouy’s enthusiasm. Champagne Taittinger told db that they have no plans to open a DTC portal.

In addition, the channel is seemingly confined to the domestic market for the time being, due to the complex logistics of shipping small volumes across Europe.

“An extension to Europe is something we might explore in the future, but the legislation is rather complicated, to put it mildly,” said Demouy.

“It’s relatively easy to ship wine as a gift in Europe, but as a commercial consignment you need to fill out cumbersome paperwork and see if there are any additional taxes or duties that you need to pay on the wine shipment.”

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