Champagne houses embrace direct selling

In an historic move, Philipponnat has announced that it is creating an online sales portal. Other Champagne houses are also creating direct-to-consumer sites. James Lawrence reports.
 

Charles Philipponnat, president, Philipponnat
Charles Philipponnat, president, Philipponnat

Leading Champagne brand Philipponnat has unveiled plans to create an online sales portal.

“We finalised the contract with our marketing agency yesterday [30 June],” explained president Charles Philipponnat. “We decided to start allowing DtC sales in late May; we realised that our online customers were doing very well during lockdown, and our online specialist competitors were ahead of last year in sales. We had been pondering it for some time, and the virus was the trigger.”

The move towards the direct-to-consumer model represents a significant shift in the attitudes of the historic estate – founded in 1522, Philipponnat was acquired by Lanson-BCC in 1997. It raises the question of what role traditional distributors are going to play in a post Covid-19 world.

“It is true that until this point, we have avoided using direct sales and preferred not to compete directly with our retailers,” said Philipponnat. “However, the evolution towards online sales is now inescapable. Retailers shouldn’t be upset as long as prices are coherent and they’re not undercut.”

According to Philipponnat, the portal will be launched in the autumn. The house plans to sell their entire range online, including: “rarities, single vineyard wines, older vintages, and gift parcels which will be proposed occasionally as special one-off offers.”

However, only French aficionados can purchase wine from Philipponnat's online portal for the time being. Shipping wine across European states is both complex and expensive – particularly if the brand is only shipping small quantities.

“If we have a successful experience in our own market, we may offer a foreign shipping service later on, always on behalf of our local distributors in other countries, and always seeking to maintain coherent pricing,” said Philipponnat.

The severe decline of the global on-trade has caused immense pain for Champagne houses like Philipponnat. 

The CIVC has revealed that Champagne sold 50m bottles less in the first four months of 2020 than it did in 2019.

As a result, a growing number of houses such as A.R Lenoble have decided to create online portals.

“We've been selling directly to some regular customers from the domaine (through telephone and email) for a while now,” said Christian Holthausen, export and communications director at A.R Lenoble. “We plan to launch our own DtC website this autumn.”

Champagne Palmer launched their platform on 11 April 2020. Other Champagne houses approached for this article refused to comment on whether they were considering a move to DtC - but now that leading houses have made a move, it's almost certain that others will follow.

 

James Lawrence

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