Structuring France

23 July, 2010

France is often accused of lacking a united generic front and trying to establish who does what can be almost as challenging as fathoming the country’s intricate AOC system. Most regions have some kind of support and there is arguably more investment this year, but is enough being done to stop France losing further market share??The majority of significant wine-producing countries have one main generic organisation or agency in the UK to ­represent and promote their wines – Italy remains the notable exception.

French generic support tends to be split between various marketing agencies in the UK and often more than one agency works with a region. In the case of the south of France (Languedoc-Roussillon) two campaigns are running, which presents a rather confusing picture: one agency is championing the AOC wines of the Languedoc and a campaign under the Sud de France umbrella brand promotes the wine and food of Languedoc-Roussillon.

Dominique Vrigneau, buying director for Thierry’s Wine Services, a major importer of French wines, describes French generic marketing as “fragmented and complicated”, but he believes France makes an effort to support retailers. He’d like to see a “meaningful French campaign” for the off-trade and more support in-store, although he concedes this is difficult.

He adds: “France used to have a much larger market share in the UK. Now with 14% of the market, the French will never opt for one central source of funding. There are too many people and everyone has a little piece of territory to defend.”??Generic involvementThis year has seen more generic promotions for French wines in the off-trade, largely organised by the Sopexa agency. Most significantly, a one-off budget was made available for generic in-store promotions, which are ongoing and have already included activities with Tesco and Sainsbury’s.

This funding has come from the French Ministry of Agriculture in response to Sopexa’s feedback from the UK market.

As Anne Burchett, Sopexa’s managing director, says: “The additional budget was released to address some of the current market issues for French wines following the delivery of market intelligence to the Ministry of Agriculture.” The decision will be taken from France as to whether a similar promotional package will be made available in future years.

This extra push has run alongside the ongoing French Quality Wines campaign, organised by Sopexa in collaboration with FranceAgriMer. The forthcoming autumn French Wines Showcase in Waitrose is part of the campaign and will feature 48 wines.

Burchett took over as head of Sopexa UK in Feburary, bringing with her two decades of experience in the British and French wine industries. Her challenge is to make the campaigns for regions such as the Loire and Provence relevant to retailers.

?Retailer viewsOddbins head buyer Richard Verney has mixed views on France’s generic support. He says: “Some generic bodies support us and the regions they represent in a logical way, others are tied up in bureaucracy. The French model suffers most from bureaucracy.”?Verney welcomes a new campaign for Bordeaux and the fact this region is “very open” to retailers’ suggestions.

Bordeaux launched the Good Food Would Choose Bordeaux campaign last month and its budget has steadily increased over the past four years.

It marks a change in direction for the region and has been developed in response to 1,500 online interviews with wine drinkers, which revealed a strong association between the region’s wines and food.

The £1 million campaign features

advertising and promotional support and there are plans to develop it further in-store.

The Rhône gets it rightVerney also praises the Rhône’s ongoing campaign. This comprises in-store promotions and advertising run directly from the region – and two strands organised by Sopexa: a trade day in March to update press and trade about the campaign and a trade tasting held annually in October.

However, he’s less enthusiastic about Burgundy’s activities (excluding Beaujolais) and frustrated that this region organises trips for journalists but not buyers.

Waitrose wine buyer Andrew Shaw also speaks highly of the Rhône’s approach. He says: “InterRhône balances volume and generic awareness with above-the-line investment.” Bordeaux and the Loire, a region currently involved in a promotional drive with key retailers including Waitrose, both get Shaw’s nod of approval. He adds: “Ideally, the French regions should come together, but they compete with each other.” He also questions whether generic French brands are really the way forward in the light of the recent demise of the pan-regional brand Chamarré.

The best scenario, Shaw believes, is a range of solid regional campaigns with carefully balanced marketing activity. “France’s strength lies in diversity and the future of French wines is in quality not quantity. The country needs its unique selling points.”

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