French wine-makers stirred by US losses

21st June 2004, Comments 0 comments

CHICAGO, June 21 (AFP) - French wine producers need to radically rethink the way they package and market wines to US consumers if they hope to stem the decline in their share of the multi-billion dollar US wine market, a panel of industry experts said here.

CHICAGO, June 21 (AFP) - French wine producers need to radically rethink the way they package and market wines to US consumers if they hope to stem the decline in their share of the multi-billion dollar US wine market, a panel of industry experts said here.

Sales of French wine has been held back by confusion over the type of wine being sold, perceptions that the wine is over-priced, and an inability to distinguish between the hundreds of different brands on the market, said panelists during a seminar at Vinexpo Americas 2004, a wine trade fair being held in Chicago.

Vinexpo, the premier international showcase for the global wine industry, runs through Tuesday at Chicago's McCormick Place convention centre.

"We are talking to the average consumer using a language he doesn't understand and isn't interested in," said Jean Marie Chadronnier, chief executive officer of Dourthe, a producer of premium French wines, speaking at the event late Sunday.

"We have to bring something accessible . . . not thousands of brands and petits chateaux."

France now lags Italy and Australia in wine exports to the United States, the world's largest wine market, although its sales of premium or high-end wines have held up well.

Part of the decline can be attributed to the surging euro, which has jumped from 84 cents to a high of USD 1.29 over the past three years, and anti-French sentiment stemming from the fallout over the US-led invasion of Iraq.

But the problem goes beyond that, and in fact owes much to France's arcane Apellation d'Origine Controllee grading system, another panelist said.

Robert Parker, a leading authority on the US wine market, lambasted the system that classifies wines according to the geography of the vineyard, as an anachronism akin to the Indian "caste system," and one which only served to marginalise French wines in the global marketplace.

"For the average consumer, the Appellation d'Origine Controllee doesn't mean a thing," Parker said.

"At the supermarket level, American consumers buy by grape varietals."

To truly compete with US and other New World wines in the red-hot mass market, French wines should be clearly marked according to the strain of grape they were made from - Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon - Parker said.

He also underscored the importance of developing easily recognisable brands without resorting to gimmicky names like "Fat Bastard" or sticking a cuddly animal on the label.

"The Italians and Australians have been brilliant at marketing their wines," he said, singling out Australia's Yellowtail and Italy's Santa Margherita marques in particular.
The only French brand with a similar profile was Georges Du Boeuf, he noted.

"The labels are a short-term solution," he said "The best solution is putting the best wine possible in the bottle for that price point. But French wine producers are being beaten at the point of sale because wines from other regions are more accessible."

A US producer, Ernest and Julio Gallo, is hoping that it will be the first to market a break-through, mass-appeal French wine.

The Californian winery and distributor is launching a new wine this September, called Red Bicyclette, made from French grapes but marketed and distributed by Gallo.

It's an experiment that will be closely watched by winemakers across the pond, according to Chadronnier, who said he would gladly take pointers from a US firm on how to craft and pitch wines that appeal to the US palate.

"We have a lot to learn," he said.


© AFP


Subject: French news

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