Interviews

Business France - Charting New Territories for French Producers

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26/03/2024 A Deep Dive into the Dynamic World of French Wine & Spirit Exports, Sustainability, and Market Strategies

French wine and spirits have long been synonymous with quality and elegance, captivating connoisseurs around the globe. Behind this allure lies a complex network of trade advisors, market strategies, and sustainable practices driving the industry forward. Géraldine Lebouc plays a pivotal role in spearheading initiatives to promote French know-how abroad and connect producers with international partners. We talk to her about Business France's impact on French wine exports and the evolving landscape of sustainable production.

As a Trade Advisor for Wine & Spirits at Business France, could you walk us through a day or week in your role? What are your primary responsibilities and activities?

Our goal is to promote and match French wineries and distilleries with importers in the US and Canadian markets: doing that can take many forms, and there is not one single day that’s the same. Usually, my day starts by reading the latest news on the French and US markets. My main responsibility is to ensure that all the projects are delivered in due time with a high level of quality.

Business France plays a crucial role in promoting French wine exports. How do you collaborate with French winemakers, distillers, and brewers to develop and implement export strategies? Can you tell us about some recent successful partnerships or initiatives?

In France we are organized as the “Team France Export”: each of our colleagues located in regional Chambers of Commerce can identify the wineries and distillers best prepared to tackle the US and Canadian markets. We always start by doing a diagnostic of the current market for their product to analyze and prioritize the following actions. We always do so hand in hand with our clients.

We help individual winemakers and distillers as well as wine or spirits regions and appellations to build brand awareness in the market. For instance, we are currently promoting Authentic Spirits from Europe through apple brandies, and Calvados in several US cities by organizing masterclasses, spirits dinners, trade shows, and more.

Image:  Bar Covent Brooklyn

How do you manage coordination with over 350 importers to facilitate partnerships with export-ready French producers?

We are a solid team of 6 Trade Advisors in the US and Canada, based in New York City, Houston, Chicago, San Francisco, and Montreal. Between us, we have divided the US into 4 different regions to ensure a close relationship with the main importers of French wines and spirits throughout the country.

The organic and sustainable wine movement in France seems to be gaining momentum. How do you see this trend impacting the French wine industry in the next few years? Are there specific regions or grape varieties that are leading this movement?

The origins of organic winemaking in France trace back to 1962 with the establishment of the French Organic Farming Association. Since then, a remarkable shift towards organic viticulture has occurred, resulting in a doubling of organic vineyard acreage within a span of the last five years. In 2021 alone, there has been an additional 20% surge in conversions. Presently, over 12% of France's vineyards operate under organic practices. Ranking third globally, after Spain and Italy, in organic wine production, France has become a significant player in the organic wine sector. This growth is indicative of consumers' increasing awareness of the health and environmental impacts associated with fertilizers and chemicals, influencing their choices in viticulture.  The French wine region with the highest organic production is, unsurprisingly, Languedoc-Roussillon with over 20,000 hectares of vines grown organically. Then comes the South of France and the Bordeaux area.

Image: French Wine Regions, Source: Taste France Magazine

Could you elaborate on the Marketplace platform by Business France? How does it help connect buyers with French wine producers? Are there any success stories or notable partnerships that have emerged from the platform?

The concept behind the Marketplace is to establish a centralized hub where international businesses can seamlessly engage with French suppliers. For US buyers, the process is simplified – just create a profile and explore a vast selection of vetted wineries or distilleries. Business France's experts are readily available to offer assistance in navigating the platform or conducting additional research to identify the perfect products. Furthermore, the platform has recently undergone updates. You can register by following this link: https://www.marketplace.businessfrance.fr/univers-sectoriels/food-and-beverages/alcoholic-beverages.html

Image: ‘TASTIN'FRANCE NEW YORK” at Midtown Loft & Terrace - products from 25 top producers across France, allowing them to taste and discover some of the country's most sought-after wines.

What are some of the key market trends or consumer preferences driving the demand for French wines in export markets? How does Business France help French producers adapt to these trends and meet the expectations of international consumers?

At Business France, our role is to facilitate connections between French winemakers and American buyers. This comes with a lot of education for our clients about the markets in each state, and the regulations, but also overcoming cultural differences to smooth business. We always do a SWOT analysis of the company to adapt their offer to the considered market. Right now, organic, sustainable wines as well as wines from Loire Valley or Burgundy are in demand, according to our experience and past events.

Image: The Christy Canterbury, MW selection @French Pavilion Vinexpo America 

Looking ahead, what are Business France's plans or strategies for further expanding the reach of French wines in export markets? Are there any new markets or regions that you are particularly focused on?

Our primary emphasis is on sponsored trips to France, aimed at exploring diverse wine regions. This provides importers, Canadian agents, key retail buyers, or Canadian monopolies, with an efficient way to discover suppliers while gaining insights into new regions and appellations. Additionally, it offers a valuable opportunity for small wineries to be sampled by busy buyers. 

With the challenges posed by geopolitical developments and changing consumption habits, how do you see the French wine industry evolving in response? Are there any specific measures or initiatives that Business France is undertaking to support the industry in overcoming these challenges?

France has a strong reputation for innovating when facing challenges such as climate change or shifting consumption habits. For instance, Wine Paris opened its 2024 trade show with the presentation of the first V d'Or awards, recognizing innovative and inspiring initiatives in the wine and spirit world. By helping find commercial opportunities in export markets, Business France is supporting the industry in its way.

What advice would you give to French wine producers looking to enter or expand in export markets? Are there any key strategies or best practices you recommend for success in international markets?

The first advice would be to do your homework. Learn everything there is to know about the market(s), regulations, key players, and your competitors as well as current trends. With that in mind, you can match your story and product so that you have the best adequation between the two. Also, patience is the order of the day: success in international markets takes time!

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Conclusion:

Géraldine Lebouc's insights offer a glimpse into the dedication and innovation propelling the French wine and spirits industry forward. Through Business France's strategic initiatives and partnerships, French producers are expanding their global reach while championing sustainability and quality. The allure of French terroir and craftsmanship continues to captivate the world, ensuring a bright future for the industry.

In conversation with Malvika Patel, Editor and VP, Beverage Trade Network

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