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Guest Column: Ultra-luxury vs. sustainability

Jean-Dominique Andreu, marketing guru and former CMO at cognac house Camus, will be joining London Packaging Week, the vibrant new home for the capital’s packaging and design community, to discuss ‘Ultra-luxury vs Sustainability’. Here he offers his insight into the balance between the beautiful and the responsible.

Luxury is characterised as the desire for beauty and goodness, for the unique and for an unforgettable experience.

The post-COVID world of luxury has changed. ESG (Environment, Sustainability and Government) is today THE leading concern among consumers in the luxury sector. As we know, there is no longer any luxury company that is not adopting a sustainable approach. Both environmentally and socially. Brands in this space have had to accept that modern day luxury has its responsibilities to the environment and to the wider community. Overall, most luxury brands have already embraced this change, particularly in the fashion, jewellery, and beauty sectors. 

The spirit’s industry has been quite slow to adapt. The reality is that in luxury spirits, just like in perfume, the container has long since become more important than the liquid in the eyes of the consumers. Historically, packaging has always been at the epicentre of the marketing of luxury spirits and champagnes. We call those Cognac XOs, and very high-end liquor and Champagne ‘Status products’ - beautiful glass or crystal decanters with golden stoppers and luxurious boxes ranging from one hundred to several thousands of pounds (IWSR price segmentation “prestige”, “Prestige plus” and above).

Consumers like to associate with these products. To be seen in on-trend venues to reaffirm their tastes in front of other people. A few fleeting moments of splendour and self-indulgence enable such brands to profit, however, we must recognise that they are very often un-sustainable.

The reality is that when they are finished, all these magnificent crystal decanters will collect dust on a shelf before one day falling off and breaking. All these luxurious boxes and gold plated zamak will go in the bin. What a sad mess!

Often in the USA, the bartenders, not knowing what to do with it, gives the decanter as a gift to the customer who has taken the last drink and finishes the bottle. It is a nice gesture, but it also means that the customer in question now has responsibility for an empty bottle they didn’t want. Quite frankly, we all understand that this ostentatious mess is in total contradiction with the “raison d'être” of modern and responsible luxury.

Another aspect of this abundance of packaging is that very often boxes, caps and accessories are mostly produced on the other side of the world. This raises the question of social sustainability in some countries, especially when tracing the cascades of subcontractors and suppliers. We must also ask ourselves about the logistics involved in such supply chains and the carbon footprint when travelling halfway across the planet.

I see a lot of spirits producers firmly committed to an eco-responsible production of their products and that's great. But while we all know that the consumer demands transparency, authenticity and sincerity, brands should not appear to contradict themselves and been incoherent. 

The challenge is in front of us, and brands must adapt. I see a few different routes:

·       A balance between ‘useful and beautiful’. Look for the sobriety and minimalism of luxury. How can this change the design and conception of products? Here we have the example of Japanese luxury which could be a good inspiration. The Japanese concept of frugality is gaining more and more influence, favouring simplicity in the materials used and aesthetics wanted.

·       Reuse and second life: Create packaging with a meaning, without being gimmicky. Can we collect and re-use those luxury packs? Little has been done yet.

·       Let's be virtuous in the choice of materials and processes. Limit wasted packaging: prohibit plastic and certain inks. 

·       Ethical production and nearshoring are bringing value to products, but how does this translate in packaging? The future relies on people, but reshoring focuses on bringing the outsourced personnel and services back to the location from which they were originally offshored. This could be the people who distil, age and bottle, or the farmers who grow the crops. We have dry goods being shipped from the one side of the world, only to be reshipped back again. This makes no sense from an environmental perspective. Lets innovate and find solutions.

In conclusion, we know the key elements of luxury will remain - emotion, creativity, and the quest for pleasure. What we need to do is adapt and come up with new ideas and breakthrough innovations to guarantee the future of luxury spirit and champagne somewhere at the crossroad of beauty, useful and respectful.

Jean Dominique Andreu will be speaking as part of Packaging Première’s seminar programme. To register, please visit the registration page

9 September 2022 - Jean-Dominique Andreu