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Maison builds strong UK links in first year

The first anniversary of a mission to raise the profile of the wine and food of the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southwest France in the UK is being marked this month. James Graham reports

Managers at la Maison du Languedoc-Roussillon in London’s Cavendish Square are pleased that in its first year the mission has developed working relationships with high-end retailers such as Oddbins, Waitrose, John Lewis, Harrods, Averys and Jeroboams as well as the relevant trade press titles for each sector.

The Maison, one of five around the world, is part of an initiative to raise the profile of the region, which borders Spain, under the banner Sud de France, according to Sud de France spokesperson Louise Hurren.

She says: “There are currently five Maison de la Région Languedoc-Roussillon, situated in Brussels, Milan, Shanghai, London and New York, which was opened three months ago.

“Each Maison has its own way of working. Doing business in Shanghai is different to doing business in New York or London, but all have the same objective: that is to foster business-to-business relationships between their country of location and the Languedoc-Roussillon region.

“The UK market is a priority for the Sud de France brand. The Maison’s role is to encourage B2B relationships, and thus our audience is made up of professionals working in the wine trade, food trade and other export sectors represented at the Maison such as tourism, high tech and biotechnology.”

Since the mission was opened in June, 2008 managers have conducted a carefully-structured, intensive programme of wine and food tastings, press conferences, trade forums and meetings. Throughout 2009, with three or four activities hosted at the Maison every month, this programme has continued. Out these each month, at least one, sometimes two, is Sud de France wine-themed.

Hurren says: “We have been pleasantly surprised by how receptive the UK trade audience is, ready and willing talk business, but equally keen to come forward with their own ideas and suggestions. Both food and wines from Languedoc-Roussillon are presented and promoted at the Maison, under the Sud de France umbrella brand. The hierarchy of Languedoc-Roussillon’s export market means that wine is the more important sector, in terms of volume and value; however, the food and other export sectors, such as tourism, high tech, biotechnology and life sciences are far from neglected.”

Each Maison has its own, dedicated staff. The London Maison, headed by Cecilia Gonzalez, has a permanent staff of five, including a Sud de France Food and Wine Ambassador, Isabelle Kanaan, and a Sud de France Food and Wine Promotions Manager, Sébastien du Boullay.

The Conseil Régional du Languedoc-Roussillon (the regional council) invests 3.5 million euros per annum to fund the five Maisons de la Région across the world while a further 15 million euros is spent across the five markets to promote the Sud de France brand.

The Maison works with a number of French bodies in London and the UK, including Sopexa, Ubifrance and the CCFGB (Chambre de Commerce Française en Grande Bretagne), and has considerable contact with London’s French population. For instance, in November 2008 the Maison hosted the Français de l’Année Awards, won by Arsène Wenger.

Festival of food and wine

A 10-day Sud de France Festival of food and wine is being organised by the Maison in September. The Festival will feature free food and wine tastings, wine appreciation workshops, a free Sud de France picnic in central London, the chance to sample a giant cassoulet (the hearty regional meat-and-bean dish) and a series of Sud de France special offers at retail outlets including Café Rouge’s 105 UK outlets and Oddbins’ 132 branches across the UK.

Londoners will be able to take part in a host of Sud de France events and promotions, including a Sud de France picnic, a Sud de France wine tasting at Vinopolis and Sud de France foods at Harrods.

1 June 2009 - James Graham