Robb Reader: Rémy-Cointreau CEO Eric Vallat

On how to take an organisation born in centuries past into an ever-more unpredictable future.

What are some of the challenges you’re relishing taking on, when it comes to taking Rémy Cointreau into a new era?
Rémy Cointreau is a French family-run Group whose origins date back to 1724. A love of our terroirs and the mastery of time have always been at the heart of our expertise. It is up to each and every one of us to allow this link between the land, people and time to coexist harmoniously, side by side. Backed up by a portfolio of striking, high-end brands, the group’s aim is to establish itself as the world leader in exceptional spirits. Since 2015, the group has accelerated its strategy of moving upmarket so as to differentiate itself. We’re ready to embrace new challenges over the next 10 years in order to continue our transformation.

How do you see the spirits market adapting to the post-Covid-19 world?
We’ve seen new trends emerging or accelerating with the Covid pandemic that we, the industry, need to adapt to. Firstly, we’ve noticed the strong development of digital sales across the world. This is particularly true in the US, where e-commerce sales have been multiplied by eight since March – admittedly from a very low base. We think some of this will stick, even post-Covid, supporting our view that our clients will increase their online purchasing, which may represent 20 per cent of our revenue by 2030. It already accounts for 20 per cent of our sales in China.

Secondly, we’ve seen the rise of occasions based on drinking education: At-home consumption has developed strongly, as people can’t go to bars or restaurants, making virtual aperitifs, online clubbing and virtual access to experts for masterclasses more popular. A third trend is about new values. After the era of “bling and logos” in the 90’s, the search for “Authenticity” in the 2000’s and that for “Experience” in 2010’s, our clients are now increasingly looking for “Meaningful Brands”. And Covid accelerated that trend. Clients – especially younger generations – are looking for brands that share the same values as them.

And lastly, global travel retail has collapsed and will certainly take years to recover. We think that going forward, we’ll need to think about China rather than the Chinese, for example. Covid is first and foremost a drama for impacted families though, so we’ve implemented measures to protect, and meet the expectations of, our clients and our employees. We’re confident that Covid won’t impact high-end cognac consumption much in the mid-term, as clients will continue to celebrate and seek exceptional sensorial experiences in the future.

Very few spirits can bring that. Cognac is one of few that can age over a number of years and develop such exceptional aromas. Besides, the accelerating trend of drinking less but drinking better quality is also supporting our value strategy.

How are people’s purchasing priorities changing?
Today, the client is asking for a holistic and seamless journey across thousands of touchpoints. There is a clear potential for our spirits brands to deliver an online selling experience that goes beyond what clients currently get: exclusive or hard-to-find products, exceptional service, a direct relationship with the brand.

It can be a challenge to convey luxury and personal service online, but one way we’ve done this is by developing a suite of content that conveys the world of Louis XIII through the digital experience provided by our new e-boutique. It allows customers to immerse themselves in the history and ethos of the Louis XIII universe, where time is our raw ingredient.

Because you can’t replicate a unique, physical, real-world atmosphere online, we brought the emotion of Louis XIII to life through movement, film, sound and imagination.

There isn’t a physical Louis XIII ambassador online to lead clients through the Louis XIII experience as we have in our physical boutiques, so it was of the utmost importance that we made the website as intuitive and easy-to-use as possible. We’ve also put a lot of effort into telling the stories behind Louis XIII in an informative and imaginative way, to encourage users to carry on exploring and learning more about what makes Louis XIII so unique. There is also an embedded concierge service, which allows users to get instant answers to any questions they may have while using the site, in the same way they would be able to ask a sales assistant in real life.

What other digital initiatives are in the pipeline?
At Louis XIII, we like to think a century ahead and shake our universe. After opening our first worldwide boutique in Beijing in 2016, which blazed a bold new trail in the world of spirits and was followed by London and Xi’an in 2017, we’re now bringing the same experience to an e-boutique platform that takes visitors on a journey through our key values of time and experience.

It was quite exciting to think about building a digital world without the constraints of bricks and mortar – it gave us the opportunity to think bigger and more creatively about how we would like to bring the experience to our clients, rather than just commerce. After several years, we’ve succeeded in developing a holistic and virtual expression of the Louis XIII e-boutique by reimagining entirely the online shopping experience.

The forward-thinking design of the e-boutique emulates the single moment of excellence experienced when tasting Louis XIII cognac. The creative concept of the website translates the three key elements of time, taste and experience into five design principals: space, warmth, depth, glow and timelessness.

Mapping user journeys and leading them every step of the way with the most compelling content possible was really important in the creation of our first e-boutique. It offers a unique user experience that takes visitors inside the world of Louis XIII. As time is at the centre of everything we do, the e-boutique conveys that sense of perpetual movement and exquisite craftsmanship at our core.

How important is Louis XIII’s emphasis on French craftsmanship?
The company’s history is proof of its unique approach to the passing of time: from the seeds of magnificent oak trees to our ageing tierçons to the creation of the final blend of Louis XIII, centuries pass by – packed with dedicated craftsmanship and slow, steady maturation.

We choose to work with French houses which have the same attention towards excellence, the handmade and the French Art de Vivre as us – for example, the Saint-Louis Crystalware, Puiforcat, Hermès, Corthay, Mellerio, Bernardaud, Maison Francis Kurkdjian…

Do generations Y and Z have different attitudes to purchasing quality spirits to those before them?
We all recognise the socio-environmental consciousness of younger generations, who like to purchase and experience goods that are produced ethically and sustainably, respectfully of people and the planet.

At Louis XIII, time is our raw material. The present is both a promise for the future and a sign of quality from the past. Each Louis XIII experience takes clients on a journey through time. Our increased digital presence is a perfect place to share these values, telling the stories behind Louis XIII’s sustainable and ethical practices, as well as offering exclusive, user-centric benefits such as access to an exclusive online concierge service, personalisation services and limited edition products.

What’s your personal definition of luxury?
Luxury itself is about time. At Louis XIII, we think a century ahead – our Cellar Master Baptiste Loiseau selects today eaux-de-vie for generations to come. We think in terms of centuries. Time cannot be purchased: it’s probably the only thing that you can’t buy on earth.

Luxury is also about experiences rather than things – it’s about taking the time to savour what is most important – sharing and celebrating special experiences with the people we care about most. It is one thing to have a great product – but beyond it there must be emotion.

Who – dead or alive – is your greatest inspiration?
I admire Nelson Mandela for his unwavering courage, tenacity, faith in humanity and eternal optimism despite the severe challenges throughout his life. He was a visionary and a figurehead for positive change. Nelson Mandela is a true inspiration and example for all types of leadership.

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