Today we are proud to present you an interview of Julie and Max creators of cognac-expert.com which is now the reference in the worldwide net concerning cognac. They were kind enough to provide us with their insight of the Cognac Chinese market.

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A bottle of Hennessy X.O. is displayed next to a model at theTop Essence luxury goods show in Beijing

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Marketing-Chine :

Hello Sophie. Hello Max. First I would like to know more about you. You created cognac-expert.com a blog dedicaded to cognac. How did you start with your website ? What was your motivation, your background ?

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Sophie:

Well you know actually we started as a very small blog three years ago – and today we are said to be the reference for cognac on the world wide web. We did not really see this coming.

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cognac expert interview blog

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Our family has an agricultural background, we have been farming in the cognac region for generations, we also used to cultivate vineyards but stopped one day. So we thought it would be a good idea to start a blog about cognac. Today it became the largest and most influential website about our beloved french eaux-de-vie. Amazing.

Today we have a team of 8 people behind cognac-expert.com, who would have thought that !?

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Marketing-Chine :

What is your offer ? Your Business Model ?

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Max:

On the one hand we are a blog about cognac. We write about news, latest developments in the cognac world for both professionals and consumers. On the other hand we are an onlineshop with over 400 different bottles in stock, shipping worldwide. Many useres asked us if we couldn’t set up a shop and that’s what we did.

Our business is driven by passion towards region and product and a big chunk of fun.

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Marketing-Chine :

How do you see the current situation of the cognac market in China ?

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Max :

It’s big business, as everyone knows. But there are also threats, such as cognac houses that rely too much on the Asian markets. We also have a huge problem with counterfeits in China – but all in all, it’s a great market for cognac. It used to be Japan, then the US, today China is the main driver for cognac sales and exports.

We really need to work on education though, this is why we have a blog in chinese : it’s cn.cognac-expert.com and we are growing – really excited about this.

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Marketing-Chine :

What do you think of the way cognac is drunk in China today ?

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Max :

I  once attended a dinner in Monaco organised by Martell, the prince was present. There were a lot of Chinese guests, and at one point they started to go for the yaaam-sinng-thing, means shouting yaaaaaammmm… siiiiiiiiing, and then downing the whole glass. Loved that. Quite different. It’s also interesting to see how Chinese combine meals with cognac, I personally think it’s great. Food pairing in general is a funky thing to do.

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Marketing-Chine :

What trends do you see coming ? What do you think are the biggest challenges for the cognac industry in the next years especially in China ?

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Sophie :

The biggest challenge for the cognac industry are (in order) :

1. Make sure that Asia is not overestimated and that big houses do not have a nightmare wake up call one day (think about what happened in Japan after the economic crisis : Cognac crashed entirely)

2. Think about base consumers like Europeans, and also let’s think about who the consumers of tomorrow are. Because 18-year old europeans (that are not bartenders or fancy mixology connaisseurs) do not drink cognac. They drink Gin, Vodka or Whisky. But not cognac.

3. Counterfeit and fake bottles. Big problem. And people get used to « cognac » that actually isn’t cognac. We need to educate asian consumers, by the way, not only them but also US consumers.

4. Make sure countries like Armenia do not use the brand « cognac » for other brandies that are simply not cognac. Period. That’s just not healthy.

5. Let’s make sure we do not forget about smaller houses, producers and the soul of the cognac region. The bigger houses tend to buy more and more from everyone. That basically means that the bigger houses have the best qualities ; because the bigger houses have great structures, reliable contracts etc. – it’s getting more and more complicated to find excellent cognacs from smaller, family owned houses.

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Marketing-Chine :

How do you see the branding of cognac houses in China in the next future ? As you know in Marketing-to-china we deeply believe that digital communication and social media will play a key role in China for cognac brands. What is your opinion regarding social media and the cognac industry ?

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Max :

As we know, Social Media is critical for communicating with customers. It is also an important tool for consumers to share opinions etc. – but at the end of the day, you need heavy marketing spend in order to establish a cognac brand in China that’s not one of the top 4 brands. Camus is an excellent example, and they are very active with social media in China. We are also active on Weibo, take a look at our account http://www.weibo.com/n/COGNAC-EXPERT – we really try to cover all the important information.

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Marketing-Chine :

Now I would like to talk about a current topic in the cognac industry namely the question of diversity. We are seeing more and more small brands being part of mega group and consolidation within the cognac market. One may say we are witnessing the disappearance of smaller lesser known cognac producers and family brands. The bigger houses of cognac are clearly dominating the market. Aren’t you afraid of a loss of diversity in cognac ?

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Sophie :

Loss of diversity is a real problem in the cognac world. Of course the bigger houses do not have that opinion – and I do not blame them. But let’s think about smaller houses : Compared to bigger houses, smaller trading houses actually pay a much higher price for a hectolitre of cognac.

It is very sad to see how family brands disappear.

But let’s not forget that the bigger houses are also very important for working new markets.

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Marketing-Chine :

Despite the fact that the cognac market  is booming in China some small brands like Leopold Gourmel decided to ignore the chinese market.

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Its owner Olivier Blanc consider that the chinese market is not mature enough and that small producers have better to focus on the french market well known for its public of connoisseurs and professionals. Do you share this opinion ?

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Max :

Yes, Olivier Gourmel is right. By the way, many importers and marketers from Taiwan, China, HK and Vietnam actually share this opinion.

These markets are not really ready for unkown or smaller cognac brands. But exceptions exist, look at what Rastignac did in Macao. But again, you need significant marketing spending in order to create awareness, and a strong and smart distribution partner that is ready to take risks.

Smaller producers should concentrate on strong markets with balanced consumption levels (old & Younger qualities), that have solid growth levels in the cognac category and that are stable and not that volatile. There are some attractive markets in Europe, such as Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands, UK, Germany and also France – Russia can be interesting ; not to forget US/Canada.

We also help smaller producers when they need our help regarding marketing and communication. We sort of became experts in online (and also offline) communication for cognac. A fascinating topic.

Thank you Sophie and Max,

Marketing to China