French alcohol firms entice new drinkers in Kenya

Posted on :Monday , 27th September 2021

The rules for drinking wines and spirits were once pretty simple. Drink what you know. But in this time where consumers are trading up to more expensive and uncommon brands, do not assume you know what your favourite tipple tastes like.

It is this desire to enjoy food and drink that is opening new opportunities for wine and spirits investors from France, seeking a bigger share of the Kenyan market.

Nineteen French wine and spirits producers and merchants from the main wine regions of France: Bordeaux, Champagne, Cognac, Rhone Valley, Loire Valley, Languedoc– Roussillon, among others were in Nairobi on Monday to showcase and give Kenyans a taste of over 200 wines and spirits, and scout for partnerships.

Ludovic Prevost, the regional director of Business France, East Africa said the Kenyan market is evolving from consuming basic to high-quality wines, making it ripe for French investors.

"A Kenyan consumer is knowledgeable and keen on enjoying cultured products. For example, it's now very common to find groups of people, women, sharing a bottle of wine in a restaurant," he said at the event held at the French Embassy in Nairobi.

Wine and spirits consumption is growing fast, thanks to the wealthy and middle-class searching for high-quality alcohol. Their preference now varies by country and region.

A de Fussigny Cognac from the Cognac region in France, a small rustic town with acres and acres of vineyards and known for the best wines and spirits, was one of the drinks that investors aim to bring to Kenya. The cognac has a luxurious taste and is packaged in bold designs, far from the conservative brands in Kenya.

It is the waves of familiar and unfamiliar aromas and flavours that rush into your senses that is whetting the palate of Kenyan drinkers, looking for alcohol from smaller, traditional distilleries, with a history dating back to 1800s.

"The main idea is to work with a traditional product but blend it with modernity and innovation," said Laura More, the export and marketing manager of A de Fussigny Cognac.

Her first time in the country, Ms Moore is scouting for partners. The house is looking to bring in the A de Fussigny VS, the A de Fussigny Superieur and the A de Fussigny XO cognacs and brandies and vodkas.

From the Bordeaux region was Jeremy Gordon of Jeremy Gordon Grand Crus. The first-generation winemaker, who says he only sells wines he likes, brought with his chest Grand Crus classes and premium brands, and an exclusive selection of Chateaux. He was holding the Monsieur de Bordeaux Red 2016 that will carry Kenyans in a whirlwind of wine and fun.

"A 100 percent Merlot, it's easy to drink. Sweet, fruity, and fresh. Simply elegant," Mr Gordon said.

Some of the investors are targeting sophisticated consumers. One such French brand is the Icard Chateaux & Vignobles whose Smiley brand was created primarily to target non-European Union markets like Kenya and especially millennials.

The brand's products are surprisingly easy to read and understand for the new consumers, something that caught the attention of Maureen Kanyi of Oaks and Corks, an online wines and spirits business based in Nairobi.

"I've seen some fun labels, which have moved away from the traditional ways of labelling that consumers may not pronounce nor remember. It's a step in the right direction," she says.

Present was also Les Terrasses de l'arago. The winery with vineyards in both the Roussillon and Champagne region distributes some of their wines in China, which is a growing wine market in both production and consumption, and in Kinshasa, DR Congo.

Thoma Magin, the co-founder of the winery says Africa is a promising market and they are looking forward to making a mark in Kenya as they have in Kinshasa. Their wine portfolio included the red wines, L'Heritage des Terrasses 2015 - fruity with a nice pepperish taste at the end - and the Chateauneuf du Pape2019 — teeming with colour and body, fruity yet fresh.

"The Chateauneuf du Pape2019 is a lovely wine," said Ivan West, a director at Solovino, a wine importing business based in Kenya.

He was at the wine and spirits event to find new wine for his Kenyan clients.

"I'm impressed by the wide variety of high-quality wines presented here. It's simply outstanding," he said, observing that with around 200 wines to taste from, he would need at least three to four hours to taste as many as possible.

Mr West noted that such events are goldmines in assisting importers find new wines that local wine lovers will enjoy and continue to appreciate as their palates grow.

And to cater for the also growing champagne market was Stephane Dubois, the sales manager of Champagne's Charles Ellner.

The family has been crafting champagnes with great personalities since 1905 in the Champagne region.

Of the varieties he displayed, he shares with BDLife the highlights of this vintage wine: the Charles Ellner Seduction Mill 2007 - Brut, 70 percent Chardonnay partially aged in old oaks barrels and 30 percent Pinot Noir.

Against the light, the colour is rich, not forgetting the fine, delicate bubbles. A swirl will leave your nose teeming with scents of dried nuts and vanilla, while in your mouth, it is a beautiful mix of oak, fruit and citrusy at the end.

Wine shops, large-scale retailers, and e-commerce platforms, coupled with the ease of paying through mobile money, have helped bring the spirits and wines to customers glasses.

"Wine is accessible in Kenya thanks to such opportunities and will go a long way in ensuring Kenyans are enjoying a taste of France over lunches and dinners. I hope that this and other similar upcoming events will open the door for local wine enthusiasts to discover and savour these delights from France," Mr Prevost said.

According to a 2020 report by Wine East Africa, Kenya has a potential market of 7.2 million litres of wine that can bring in Sh8.6 billion in revenue.

This presents an interesting opportunity for both local and foreign wine producers. Last year, the largest wine exporters to the country were South Africa at $10.5 million, France at $1.3 million and Chile and Italy at $1.05 million, according to the Annual International Trade Statistics.

Kenyans have found a new thirst for wines and spirits, and this upward trajectory is rooted in several factors. Among them is the emergence of the increasingly sophisticated middle-class, the perception of wine consumption as a status symbol.

Kenyan producers such as Leleshwa Wines from the Rift Valley Winery and Yatta Wines from The Trade Kenya Wine Agencies have a small share of the market.

Noting such impending potential, global wineries are jostling to get their foot in the door. Business France organised the Nairobi event christened 'Tasting France', a professional tasting of the finest wines and spirits produced in France.

It brought together importers, distributors, restaurants, and retailers, seeking partnerships opportunities for import and distribution of wines and spirits.





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