Brand owners love to talk about heritage and provenance these days, but clearly defined cultural associations can be both a blessing and a curse. The mere word ‘pastis’ conjures quintessentially French images of sunlit terrains de pétanque and sleepy Provençal afternoons – but try translating that summer holiday appeal to a rainy night in the UK’s Grimsby.
Henri Bardouin is possibly the most internationally focused and aware independent pastis brand but, of the 500,000 bottles of its pastis sold annually, only about 20% are exported. Even Pernod Ricard, with all its global clout and stellar portfolio, only sells about 25% of its pastis – Ricard and Pernod’s Pastis 51 brand – outside the borders of France.
“In France it’s still the number one spirit – number one in terms of consumption across all ages and all social categories,” says Mathieu Sabbagh, international director of Pernod, but speaking on behalf of Pernod Ricard’s entire anise stable. “The category is struggling, as many other categories in France are struggling at the moment because the market is so tough.”
At Marie Brizard, owner of Berger pastis and anise spirit Berger Blanc, product manager Ilze Latiseva agrees – but says there are still opportunities. “The pastis market is mature in France,” she says, “but Berger pastis is still showing a very good growth, especially in the on-trade channel (13.5%, Nielsen, MAT to December 14, 2014).
“In addition to that, Berger is the leader by far on the white anise-based spirits category with Berger Blanc [which has a] 45% market share (Nielsen, MAT to December 14, 2014).”
Given that pastis in particular is aimed, by Latiseva’s own admission, at “men, aged 50-plus”, it’s clear that, domestically at least, this is not the most dynamic of spirits categories. But what about overseas?
“Exports have been growing steadily for the past 10 years,” reports Sabbagh, noting that sales have doubled over the past 15 years in the top two markets – Belgium and Spain (but off a small base). “Slowly but surely, there has been growth – not super, big double-digit, ding-dong, but it’s steady and it’s very organic because we don’t have huge budgets.”
“We sell Henri Bardouin pastis in 45 countries, mostly in Europe,” says Jean-Baptiste Robert, export area manager at Distilleries et Domaines de Provence. “Out of Europe, about 15 countries, usually those where the Francophone or Francophile community is big enough, very linked to French culture.”
Typical consumers are – predictably enough – French (plus Belgian or French Swiss) ex-pats, but also those British, German or American natives who have spent holidays in Provence (or have read the odd Peter Mayle novel).
So it’s clear that the French association is all-pervasive – pastis consumers are either French, French-speaking, or are so in love with French culture that they want to replicate those hazy Provençal afternoons in their own back gardens (even rainy ones in Grimsby). In terms of consumer appeal, this is highly restrictive.