Champagne brand Nicolas Feuillatte is a relative newcomer to the world of bubbly but this allows it to “break the rules” of luxury marketing.
Marketing Week caught up with the Nicolas Feuillatte team of Caroline Defaut (CD), marketing and communications director and David Henault (DH), new cellar manager for this Q&A.
Marketing Week (MW): Nicolas Feuillatte champagne is 35 years old this year. How can the brand compete in a market of older, more established names?
Caroline Defaut (CD): This is very difficult, because you have to make yourself respected as a young brand. We are a young brand in a very old category, in a world that is changing much more quickly today than it ever was.
But somehow, that allows us to be a bit more daring, or break the rules, or try to. There are a lot of codes in the champagne industry. For example, I came from the perfume industry and suggested we could do a ‘fountain’ of champagne, like [designer] Theirry Mugler does with perfume. But [colleagues] all look at you and say: ‘are you crazy?’ A champagne brand can’t do that because it is not respecting the product if you do that.
You have to have imagination. In my commercial presentations, I said we can be a ‘wise’ brand but we can also be a bit crazy sometimes. Everyone knows we are in a category with roots, with rules, with history so you have to [respect] that and then you can play with it.
MW: Do you have a younger audience than the older brands?
CD: Probably because we are a young brand, we have a younger audience. But [drinking it] it is more a question of moment [or occasion], or of whether you are a connoisseur [rather than your age]. There are some wines in our range that are more sophisticated and if you are not prepared [for the taste], you might not like them.
MW: Nicolas Feuillatte has a history of supporting artists. How are these partnerships used in marketing?
CD: We don’t use it for marketing – not any more. When you say art and ‘use in marketing’, the words don’t work together. We give the artist an idea of the values of the brand and then they are free [to do what they want]. Since 1999, we have appointed an artist of the year who creates a piece of art that we own and display at our production site.
We are trying to position ourselves as a talent-discoverer. We work together, but the idea is not to advertise it. Last year we organised an exhibition in Paris for a month so people [such as art critics] talked about it in conjunction with us.
MW: Earlier this year, the bottle labels were redesigned. Are you trying to reach a new audience by doing this?
CD: Yes, to the extent that we want to be known and adopted by the most people. No, because we have faithful clients and consumers who are like our friends somehow – and we have to be faithful to them. You cannot just change the brand from one day to the next and say ‘OK, you liked it, now we are doing something else.’
We are a young brand in the champagne category and for us it is a kind of maturity we are coming to, so it was a good time to rethink and propose a new design. Our strapline is ‘Épernay-New York-Beyond’ [Épernay is a French town, where the main champagne producers can be found on the Avenue de Champagne] and we wanted to better share this idea of travel and escape. We created a universal symbol, the compass, which shows this sense of ‘beyond’.
MW: Will the champagne itself change?
DH: No. I wasn’t hired eight years ago to change it, but to keep it going. Maybe in the future, we can change things to improve or add something else but not to change it. For the last five or six years, I have tried improve the ‘fine-ness’ of the wines, I want it to be fine and fresh.
CD: We have probably the largest range of champagne for every moment or mood. They all have their places, it is a large collection, a specific taste or style.
There are the big marketing theories that you read in the books, but if you change your philosophy every year, then you don’t have one.
We are in a very difficult category, where we are a luxurious product but not always [consumed] in a luxurious environment [Nicolas Feuillatte is only sold in the off-trade market in the UK].
MW: How are you advertising the new bottle design?
CD: We are advertising a lot in France in the press. In the UK, we are branding 200 London taxi cabs and on Facebook, people can play a game and ‘grab’ the cabs. We are doing lots of things, not only advertising in magazines, we are also meeting people, explaining the new design. You can’t say we belong to a co-operative and are a human company and not meet people.
Advertising is very nice but you don’t meet people so you have to play on all kinds [of communication].
MW: You have an iPhone app, MobileToast, where people can open a bottle of champagne and pour it into a glass. Why do this?
CD: It has been put together for the US market. The idea is that someone can learn to open the bottle and pour it. They can then see where they can buy the champagne in their local area.
MW: There is a perception that you shouldn’t drink champagne with food. Is that right?
DH: Our range is wide, we have 14 champagnes. In France, it is drunk with food and it is a new habit. So I would recommend our 225 Cuvee with chicken and the Brut on the terrace on a sunny day because it is easy and fresh. Champagne is one of the easiest wines to match with food.
MW: What is your ambition for the brand in the UK?
CD: It is not a question of being number one or number two, it is about building the brand and have people know what it is, to understand the values and philosophy. Some people might not like it, but I would say this is life, you can like or not like it.
DH: We are one of the youngest houses, but we are not kids. We have nothing to learn from the big or ancient ones. We are here for the long term.
Nicolas Feuillatte: the real story
Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte is a wine-making collective, started by its eponymous founder in 1976. Feuillatte had previously been a coffee importer in the US before buying a vineyard in Champagne, France in 1972. The brand has 5,000 winegrowers divided into 54 co-operatives.
While its UK off-trade sales were up 19% between 2010 and 2011, it does not have a presence on-trade. Marketing director Caroline Default says it is ‘still working on it’. Being sold in bars and restaurants would likely boost its off-trade sales from the 10th place it holds at the moment, behind brands such as the LVMH-owned Moet and Chandon and Veuve Clicquot (see chart, below).