A sign of the times for global luxury brands

APAC-NEWS-Martell-XO-launch-in-China-Nicholas-Tse-Brand-Ambassador at Shanghai event


Iconic French Cognac, Martell launches its latest creation… in Shanghai

Richard Coleville

A leading French trader of fine Cognac was recently asked how accommodating are its producers, he quipped, “If I was standing outside with a Cognac maker and asked him what the weather was he wouldn’t give me an answer.”

In fines wines, Champagnes and liquors the French hold their traditions, and their brands, dearly. Champagne producers created their own association – with the very French title “Comité interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne” – to protect the use of the name to only wines emanating from the Champagne region in the northeast of France.   

Likewise, Cognac is a region, with six sub-regions primarily identified by the qualities of their soil, and only production from these regions can bear the name Cognac. Those making the spirit elsewhere using the same distilling process must call their product brandy.

If the terms “Champagne” or “Cognac” are used by outsiders, the winemakers politely step to one side, making a path an army of lawyers who battle, and win, for these brands all the time.

Cognac makers are renowned for being secretive and though people can visit many of the 200 Cognac houses to sample their spirits, it is not uncommon for the Cognac maker to simply refuse to answer questions as they conduct cellar door tastings.

So how does a producer from such a guarded, and fiercely French, industry go about launching an exclusive new product? By going to China.

The three centuries old Maison Martell has unveiled its emblematic Martell XO cognac with a new bottle design, in statement, says the company, “The distinctive arch-shaped bottle – so famous that, in some countries, it is referred to simply as the arch – has been thoroughly updated, with cleaner, more dynamic lines and refined brushed-gold trim conveying the energy and elegance of Martell XO.”

Martell, now owned by French wine and spirit conglomerate Pernod Ricard, announced the unveiling of the new bottle without a single mention as to why it was happening in China and not France. In fact, its media release was marked with the dateline “PARIS: October 22, 2019”

Research company Fact.MR estimates that around 210,000 bottles of Cognac are sold annually with the market growing at around five per cent. Cognac sales in China are currently growing at 21% annually; however, thanks to a successful ‘premium pricing’ strategy revenues are growing at 34%.  

French spirits group Rémy Cointreau, the maker of Louis XIII Cognac that sells for more than A$4,000 a bottle, reported 20% quarterly sales growth at the beginning of the year. The company says this growth is sustainable.

In its desire to better align with Chinese luxury-conscious consumers, Martell has enlisted renowned Hong Kong musician, actor and chef Nicholas Tse, as Asian brand ambassador. He was on hand at the Shanghai launch and an equally ritzy Martell XO launch in the prosperous southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, the following day.

Said the company, “His charismatic personality and outstanding achievements embody the daring spirit of Martell XO, the cognac that marks life’s defining moments.” That a French luxury brand would stage a launch in China is perhaps one of the defining moments of global business.