[Exclusive interview]: Why age is the secret of Tesseron success?

Volume sales of Cognac and Armagnac are poised to grow by 4% a year to 2021, forecasts the latest Vinexpo/IWSR research into global spirits markets. Among them is Tesseron Cognac. Xavier Blanc, VP for Sales & Marketing, explains the company’s approach.

Q: The China market is showing impressive growth for Cognac; how successful is Tesseron Cognac in increasing sales in the last two years? 

A: China is indeed one of the largest contributors to the growth of the Cognac market at the moment. However, in retrospect, the category has experienced a long period of crisis and the Chinese market has changed, for the better we believe. As a ‘small’ Cognac house, operating in a niche market, we’ve always looked at sustainable long-term growth. For the last two years we’ve been re-adapting to the market, enforcing a different strategy with a more direct approach to the market and to our distributors. This has proved to be a more efficient way of looking at the increasing sales figures. But China is not the only market we’re doing great in at the moment. 

Q: Which styles of Tesseron Cognac are proving most successful and why?

A : Since 1905, Tesseron Cognac has been renowned in the art of ageing cognacs. And is also known as the owner of legendary reserves, especially in old Grande Champagne, the first cru of Cognac. You should see our Paradise*, it is literally mind blowing!With that in mind, Tesseron Cognac has always only produced XO Cognacs**. Our blends start from 10 years of age minimum (which since April 2018 is the minimum requirement for an XO) and go back six generations for our most prestige cuvées. It’s a unique position within the industry. Here, our tag line ‘Tesseron Cognac, XO & Beyond’ takes on its full meaning. Therefore, if our youngest XOs such as our Tesseron Lot 90 or our Lot 76 have the most widespread appeal, older and rarer blends such as the iconic Tesseron Lot 29 the only Cognac to get 100 points from Robert Parker – encounter great success among Cognac connoisseurs and brown spirits lovers. 

Q: Which are Tesseron’s top three markets? 

A: Overall, the growth the category is experiencing is fueled by the US and the Chinese markets. However, we try not to be dependent on those two markets, or any market by the way. For instance, Tesseron Cognac is also doing very well in Russia in spite of a tough economic situation. Our ultimate goal is to secure long-term growth in every market, whatever the size. 

Q: What are the major challenges to marketing Tesseron Cognac a) In Europe, b) in the USA, c) worldwide

A: For us, the challenge is actually the same in all markets. We are a 100% pure XO player, and in that regard we have to set up the right route to market through exclusive channels and partnerships. To give you a better idea, in the US the VS*** segment amounts to 75% of the category. But worldwide, we see solid demand for high-end cognacs and older styles. For example, a few months back, we closed a sale of a 25 litre demi-John (the biggest bottle size ever sold) of a very rare blend, at our long-time partner Hedonism in London. Quality is our number one focus. 

Q: Please give some examples of successful marketing programmes in any of the markets above? 

A: As a 100% family-owned company, we believe in people and proximity to our clients. Therefore, we usually invest in programmes that involve direct contact with our consumers such as tastings and dinners. We pair Tesseron Cognac with Grand Cru Classé Château Pontet Canet, Pauillac – which is also co-owned by Alfred Tesseron and his nieces and children – as much as possible. Retail and on-trade staff training are also among the key programmes we put in place during the whole year in various locations. Education is key.

Q: Have you increased budgets for marketing recently? 

A: Depending on the market and the degree of business maturity, we tend to look at marketing investments case by case, country by country. In other words, this not systematic. 

Q: Which spirits are the closest competitors to Tesseron Cognac? 

A: The obvious answer here is Whisky. In all fairness, I have to say, those guys have done a tremendous job. Rum is right now on the rise, big time, especially high quality rum agricole. However, when it comes to very old and rare ‘eaux de vie’ I don’t see any real competitors to Cognac and its savoir-faire. Going back to our amazing collection of old reserves I was just mentioning above, trust me, no whisky or rum can compete with that! 

Q: Please give some examples of how Tesseron has countered this competition

A: Well, actually, I believe there’s room for everyone as long as the quality is there. Diversity is good and one can appreciate great cognacs and great whiskys or Armagnacs all together and not just one of them.  But during the numerous tastings we hold, whisky drinkers in particular are always surprised and amazed at how the Tesseron Cognac style is delicate and smooth while very complex. Tasting is the key. 

* Paradise:  Stocks of old Cognac

** XO: Extra Old

*** VS: Very Special – aged for at least two years

Company profile: Founded in 1905 by Abel Tesseron, the Cognac company is run by the third and fourth generations of the Tesseron family. From initially providing eaux de vies to large Cognac houses for blending, Tesseron now specialises in premium-priced XO Cognacs aged for ten years or more.