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Jean-Dominique Andreu: A life in spirits

After leaving Camus earlier this year, marketing guru Jean-Dominique Andreu talks about his life in spirits and where he sees the category going next.

Jean-Dominique Andreu Camus

There are few who have the experience in the spirits industry that Jean-Dominque Andreu has accrued. He has helped to launch three spirits brands - Cognac Ferrand in 1989, the first "super-premium" gin, Citadelle, in 1996, and Plantation Rum in 1999 - and has decades of experience in brand design and promotion.

Most recently he was chief marketing officer at cognac house Camus, where he initiated a total renovation of the brand and elevated its liquids to a globally revered status. Since leaving Camus earlier this year he has been working as a freelance consultant and teaching at a business school in Paris.

Jean-Dominique was already close to Cyril Camus, the fifth-generation head of the House of Camus, when he took the senior post. He says, "He [Cyril] really let me look at the brand, asked me to change it, and I was able in a relatively short time to completely reposition the brand. This went as far as reformulating the liquid, which was done with the cellar master Patrick Léger. We changed everything except the name, but it was really proof of trust from Cyril that he let me do this because this is his brand, his family heritage. I really appreciated that he trusted me with that. I think it was something that was a great adventure and a great experience for myself."

Building a brand "story" has been a crucial tenet of the craft spirits movement around the world, as companies look for new ways to build connections with consumers. But for Jean-Dominique, the job of a marketer is "not to tell fairy tales" - and he says the fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic may see those brands who have relied heavily on this element of their marketing suffer.

"We are seeing that the big brands are stronger because when people go to the store they buy a bottle of the brand they are used to and where the value proposition is clear. The business of craft spirits is down and will continue going down, for me that is clear, but there has been a bubble of craft and it was always going to pop. We are going back to true values - there have been too many fairy tales," he says.

He believes that spirits production and marketing can be helped by better regulation in the category - for example, the strict rules that dictate the production of cognac or Scotch whisky. "The problem with every category is that, if there are not specific rules within it, it becomes the Wild West," he says. 

"When you look at cognac, as a category it has set rules which are by far the most strict in the industry. It is a huge challenge - marketing works with the legal department on their back. But look at the success of that product and that region. Scotch whisky has done the same.

"When I started working at Camus I was surprised by the quality of the liquid... but what shocked me was, they were putting great liquid in the bottle but it didn't reflect anywhere on the packaging or documents. Storytelling for brands has to have a serious base in the production and quality of the liquid. A marketer's job is about a deep understanding of the liquid, understanding and appreciating what is done by you and the competition, highlighting what is interesting and bringing it to the consumer. You have to be abe to convey the message [about production] in a simple way, but you have to be able to talk to experts and people who influence the industry and the consumer. This is what we were able to do [at Camus]."

While toeing the regulatory line can be challenging, Jean-Dominique has never seen it as a hindrance - rather, he says, it encourages greater creativity among producers. This can be seen in the launch of Camus' port cask-finished cognac - the first cognac to be finished in this way - in 2018, and the producer's recent expedition to the Barbados to age 10 barrels of its cognac in the tropical Caribbean climate. 

"When you have ideas and imagination, you can do things like that; you can challenge yourself and bring products which are interesting for fine spirit drinkers," he says. "The rules are not to kill creativity or innovation."

It is this push for innovation which led Jean-Dominique to create a technological first for the spirits industry at Camus - a digital programme which can build a bottle of cognac for a customer using more than one billion combinations of liquid, age, finish, glassware and packaging. He says it was inspired by the automotive industry, where consumers can build a car from the ground up. "Nobody has thought about configuring this to the liquor business," he says.

Such technologies are a world away from the opportunities available when Jean-Dominique entered the spirits market in 1989 with Cognac Ferrand, which he created with former business partner Alexandre Gabriel. However, even then, he was pushing against tradition.

He explains, "Usually in Cognac there are two ways to own a cognac house: to inherit it from your family, or to buy it for a lot of money, but it is a very difficult business to operate. My family is not from Cognac and I didn't have the money to buy a cognac house, so it was a very adventurous and crazy challenge to create Cognac Ferrand. We created it with 51,000 francs, which is nothing. After a few years where it was really tough, things started to work and Cognac Ferrand started to do really well."

From Cognac Ferrand, Jean-Dominique and Alexandre went on to launch gin brand Citadelle in 1996. At that time the world's only super-premium gin, it was inspired by the creation of premium French vodka brand Grey Goose and saw most of its early business in the US.

Jean-Dominique says, "I remember meeting with a guy from marketing at Grey Goose and asking why he was doing a French vodka - we have no knowledge of vodka, no heritage, no history, no nothing. And he told me, 'You don't get it - for American people, if it is French, it is good'. When I looked at that, I thought if it worked for vodka it will work for gin. So I created Citadelle and actually it worked very well at the beginning. But we were probably 20 years early, because the super-premium gin trend took a long, long time to pick up."

Next the duo turned their hands to rum with the launch of Plantation Rum in 1999. When it launched, Plantation was focused on championing the terroir of rum and sought out top expressions from rum makers around the Caribbean. 

Jean-Dominique says, "I really love whisky, and was really interested by what was done by the whisky people. I have always loved rum as a product and really felt that some whisky drinkers would be very interested to enjoy and discover the variety of tastes and aromas that you can find in some of the best rum in the world. Plantation was created with the idea to put under one label really great liwuid souorced from different regions."

12 October 2020