The Buyer talks to Cellar Trends’ Terry Barker about the problems of the Calvados category in the UK and the many opportunities there are to grow the business both as a sipping drink and as a base for cocktails.
Provenance and premiumisation in the spirits business is playing into the hands of Calvados producers argues Cellar Trends‘ Terry Barker.
How important is the UK market for Calvados Boulard and why?
It is still relatively small – smaller than the share of the global business and smaller than the European market. The shipment volume has never gone above 10-12,000 bottles per annum.
It’s a frustrating category, it needs a rejuvenating boost and it needs significant investment to do that and that’s been a challenge – to get commitment from any of the suppliers and that includes the big boys.
I think it has got the opportunity for growth, the knowledge of Normandy, the knowledge of Calvados, the Francophiles who go there see it and taste it – for some people it has that picture postcard memory. I also think that it will always surprise people when they taste this in a cocktail or on its own, ‘it’s actually quite nice’.
Some issues are that we can’t crack into the supermarket business where the own label prices are too low for us to compete. There are also good specialists online, but we have good wholesale distribution so there’s a good opportunity for bars to get hold of it.
How is the Calvados market structured in the UK?
There’s three bits to the Calvados market:
- own label – which is where the volume is
- the branded section – which is a limited number of brands Boulard being one (Pierre Magloire and Busnel being others) so in terms of brand share Boulard is quite strong
- the boutique section – a little bit like Armagnac, certainly in the on-trade restaurant world, this is boutiquey “I know a farmer who makes it and I like going across and picking it up and this is from Monsieur So and So, it’s wonderful Calvados, it’s the third farm on the right,” sort of thing. We can’t compete in that category, you’re up against different quality, different emotions different value sets.
Back in the late 1980s we had had quite a big, very nice business with Sainsbury’s. Proved the market for them and then they got enabled, so success has its own challenges. Disappointing that was at the time.
We do reasonably well though.
What price points work best for you in the UK?
The Grand Solage is about £32 and then we go up the Extra that is about £322. The £30 mark is the area we are operating in. We’ve got something lighter than that which is for the pouring on-trade – Cuvée Vincent and we don’t sell that in the shops.
Is Calvados a category that just ticks along?
I don’t think many mainstream bars have Calvados at all which is one of the problems with the category and even in the bigger bars a number of places will have it but there’s limited demand.
You can go into a lot of Calvados places and they’ll say ‘Yes I’ve got it somewhere on the back fitting’ but it’s a challenge trying to generate more interest in it.
I think it will happen, the quality is there, there’s a story there, but there is an image baggage associated to it and a real low level of awareness.
So yes, it’s a category that ticks along and will continue to do so unless there is significant investment from the brand owners or the manufacturers and investment by the trade to almost get over their own perceptions – there is actually something you can do about it.
It is a good ingredient and a good cocktail base.
How does working in the UK compare to your other key export markets?
And Boulard is trying to replicate that here with the Classic Cocktails – it’s something we’ve been quiet about but want to get across that there is life for Calvados in a cocktail.
In the UK the market is salesforce-led – doing bartender education and training.
We have a total sales team of about 30 – ten of these deal with the big on-trade and off-trade groups, we supplement that in the London area with different brand ambassadors with different products so in London we are up to about 15.
Something that we need to revisit is to have a brand ambassador going around the bars trying to get to the people and trying to drive that message about the versatility and the opportunity, it’s good because bartenders tend to be very hungry for knowledge.
What are the key consumer trends with Calvados in the UK?
There are two that we’ve picked up and it’s the same on all spirits as it is with Calvados.
One is Premium and a big move to premium-isation within drink categories and the other trend that is true with both the consumer and trade is Provenance.
We know through working with Faustino and Boulard that within the trend towards Provenance is ‘family’ – the family-ness feel about a brand is an important emotional driver for consumers – brands with a true story, and a real history that goes way back when
It is key – it is the honesty and truthfulness about it.
How do these compare with other key export markets?
The UK is very interested in high quality products and is probably more sophisticated than any other European market, we hear that from the other brand owners that we’re associated with.
American-based companies see London as a trend-setting starting point for Europe and in the last couple of years Berlin has challenged London’s role in Europe. It has built that sophistication and ranging.
A few years ago it was all eyes on New York, you’ve got to see what’s happening in New York – that will transcend itself in the rest of the world. London is like that for the rest of Europe, with Berlin just beginning to challenge that and Barcelona and Madrid also becoming more significant.
How is Calvados Boulard adapting to suit changes in the marketplace?
We’ve got to bring it down in age profile. It’s got an imagery of being associated with elderly as has many other spirits.
Malt whisky has managed to transcend this and got out of ‘I’m not drinking what my parents drink,’ and blended whisky is still struggling with that, but if you go to France the cool ‘in thing’ is blended whisky.
It’s not that the products aren’t capable of doing it, I think Calvados can follow the rest of them, can follow the likes of malt whisky and it’s a growing category as well – we’re heavily involved in the rum market and that whole thing with aged rum – it can follow that.
The big challenge the gatekeepers and the buyers have is to move the mindset of it being a category or style of liquid where lower price is the only thing that matters – moving that perception is quite a challenge to do, but like malt whisky and aged rums, if you have this provenance and history and the story – you can justify it, and the consumer will probably accept that as well.
The product can certainly command the premium based upon the quality of production.
What do you see as the big opportunities for Calvados in the UK and for Calvados Boulard in particular?
It won’t be in that lively party-on scene like some brands we work with, Sambuca for example, which is very much a digestif but also a party–on liquid.
But there is an opportunity – hard to quantify how big that is – an opportunity to build awareness and widen the usage occasion so it can have a role in the cocktail environment and in the late-on sipping environment.
Cellar Trends distributes Calvados Boulard in the UK