Creating a gentle revolution in Champagne
By Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop
Friday, October 3, 2008
SINGAPORE: Cécile Bonnefond doesn't look like a revolutionary, but this 54-year-old Frenchwoman sounds a little like one when she describes some of the ways in which she has marketed Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, the Champagne house of which she became chief executive in 2001.
There was the collaboration with Emilio Pucci, who dressed a 9,000-bottle limited series in his flamboyantly colored prints. The interior designer Andrée Putman made a Champagne box that doubles as an ice bucket, decorated with her signature checkerboard pattern. Karim Rashid, a designer from Egypt, created the Globalight, an orb-shaped lamp that is also an Isotherm bottle carrier.
Innovation of any kind is tricky when the company you are running dates to 1772, and it can seem superfluous when your sales are rising even in tough economic times.
Yet Bonnefond, who has managed some of the best-known brands in Europe at companies like Groupe Danone and Grand Metropolitan (now Diageo), sees innovation as necessary to preserving Veuve Clicquot's place in a changing world.
"I see my job as really managing a paradox," Bonnefond said on a recent business trip to Singapore. "With Veuve Clicquot, you have history, but we also want to be the most edgy, modern, audacious, 'in' name in Champagne."
Audacity is part of Veuve Clicquot's heritage. In 1814, Barbe Nicole Ponsardin, the original Veuve, or Widow, Clicquot, defied Napoleon's nautical blockade of Russia by secretly shipping 10,550 bottles of Champagne to Königsberg (now Kaliningrad). By the 1860s, the czarist court and aristocracy were drinking 700,000 bottles per year, or 75 percent of Clicquot's production.
With the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, sales of Champagne to Russia abruptly halted. It wasn't until recently, with the rising wealth in Russia, that sales have picked up to the point where Bonnefond can say that "for the first time, this year, we've finally sold more bottles in Russia than Madame Clicquot."
Despite the emerging global economic slowdown, Bonnefond said the company had record sales in 2007 and was "only feeling a small pinch" this year, an accomplishment she attributes to " a very loyal core consumer group."
Marlous Kuiper, head of alcoholic beverages research at Euromonitor International, said Veuve Clicquot had outpaced growth in the global Champagne market in recent years, sometimes by as much as five percentage points.
Veuve Clicquot comes under the umbrella of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, along with the Champagne brands Moët & Chandon, Dom Perignon, Krug, Mercier and Ruinart. Although LVMH does not release a breakdown of production or sales among its wine and spirit brands, the division had total net sales of 3.2 billion, or about $4.4 billion, in 2007, up 7 percent over the previous year, with 62.2 million bottles of Champagne sold in 2007, a 3.8 percent increase over 2006.
According to the latest LVHM results report, Veuve Clicquot and Moët & Chandon have had so far this year a "good performance." Bonnefond said, "I have to make my shareholders happy and they are very happy."
A native of Paris and a graduate of the European Business School with a degree in marketing, Bonnefond joined Danone's marketing division in 1979 before moving to Kellogg's in 1984 as marketing manager for France. Over the next 10 years, she held growing responsibilities across Europe in sales, marketing and general management. In 1995, she joined Grand Metropolitan as chairman and chief executive of a new unit overseeing the activities of Grand Met food brands including Brossard baked goods, Häagen-Dazs ice cream, Green Giant frozen foods and Old El Paso Mexican products.
When Grand Met sold its bakery business to Sara Lee in 1997, she joined that company as chief executive of the bakery division in France and Italy.
At Veuve Clicquot, Bonnefond has shown some of the qualities that helped the original owner propel the company, including a knack for seizing the moment. Soon after she joined, she introduced a Veuve Clicquot Rosé nonvintage Champagne. "Knowing that 90 percent of the rosé Champagne drunk in the world was nonvintage, there was a feeling that we were missing a business opportunity," she said.
Bonnefond chose Japan as a test market for the first limited production of the new Champagne. The response was so enthusiastic that the company did not have enough bottles to test it in Hong Kong and Belgium as planned. After increasing production, she took nonvintage rosé international in 2006. Today the product represents around 10 percent of the company's overall sales.
Bonnefond has also moved into other product extensions. There's the Clicquot gift carton that unfolds into an insulated Champagne bucket, a neoprene jacket to keep the bottle cool, and an ice bucket in the bold orange of the brand.
She said that she was not recruited to Veuve Clicquot to "bring in a revolution" but that she was "accelerating" business.
"We've just pushed the boundaries further," Bonnefond said.
A PLACE IN THE AUVERGNE
International Herald Tribune
New York Times
Vacation /Business Trip Furnished Apartment in Paris