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Champagne must do more to ‘defend itself’ – Nicolas Feuillatte sales chief

Champagne producers risk losing a generation of younger drinkers if they are complacent about the rise of Prosecco and other sparkling wines in major markets, the sales director of Nicolas Feuillatte has said.

Champagne may be one of France’s greatest wine success stories, but the recent surge in popularity for Italian Prosecco presents a fresh challenge that should not be underestimated.

Producers argue that the two have completely different profiles. Yet, according to Nicolas Feuillatte‘s Julie Campos, the danger lies in failing to recognise a threat.

‘There’s an element of sitting back on your laurels, and when you’re sitting back you don’t make an effort to defend yourself,’ she told decanter.com in an interview in London. ‘Champagne as a category should be making more effort to defend itself.’

She added, ‘you could compare it to what happened with France‘s still wines in the face of competition from the
New World’, referring to a time when Australia and California, in particular, took market share off French wine in key export markets after the turn of the Millenium.

Since then, French wines in general have regained some ground. ‘Wine drinkers all experiment on other things, but they will also come back,’ said Campos, who spent several years working in the Rhone and Chablis prior to joining Feuillatte in early 2011.

Champagne is arguably in a different market position to the middle order of French wine that was caught napping by the New World.

But, Campos believes a similar principle of communication applies. ‘For the young people coming through, we should be telling them where Champagne comes from and what it is.’

She is equally adamant that the Champenois should remember where their core consumers live, amid the chase for new markets around the world.

‘80% of Champagne [volume] sales are in Europe. We should be very careful not to ignore these markets. New markets are going to take quite a while to build. We have to take an interest, but it has to be a proportionate interest.’

Within Western Europe, Campos said that high levels of price promotion and discounting are a constant challenge.

As previously reported on decanter.com, this year’s beginning to the Christmas selling season has already seen some French supermarkets using loyalty card schemes to offer Champagne for less than EUR10-a-bottle, with several UK supermarkets also offering steep discounts on bulk buys.

Campos emphasised that Nicolas Feuillatte is ‘not an entry level Champagne’, but that price promotions are part of the game.

‘You’re either in or you’re out. If we want to work with the multiple retailers, and we do, because that’s where most of our consumers are going to go to buy regularly, you have to understand their prices and their competitive environment.

‘If you say that you are not going to sell on promotion, then they are not going to be interested for very long.

‘At the same time, we are in business to make some money. You have to add some value to what you do,’ she added, citing Feuillatte’s use of add-on deals with specific retailers, such as 20cl ‘quarter-size’ bottles at John Lewis in the UK.

Campos said that, against a global Champagne market in slight decline, ‘we are still growing. We sold 9.8m bottles last year and we expect to be up on that [in 2013].’ Value sales are also expected to rise versus 2012, but she declined to give a forecast.

Written by Chris Mercer

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