L’Express: Moët Hennessy comprises twenty-five houses. What market are you targeting?
Phillip Schaus: Initially, Moët Hennessy was above all champagne and cognac. Since then, we have diversified and strengthened our offer in two sectors: still wines – hence the acquisition of Joseph Phelps in the Nappa Valley – and spirits. We distinguish between different moments of consumption: the aperitif, where we are very present with our rosés, with products like Chandon Garden Spritz and with our champagnes; gastronomy, mainly with our wines and champagnes; mixology, through bars; but also – and this has become very important – the “High Energy Chanel”, ie nightclubs, clubs, etc. The last segment is that of collectors.
What are your ambitions in the spirits market?
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In this area, what interests us are luxury spirits, with aging and ennoblement processes. Rum, tequila and whiskey are our three pillars, in addition to cognac. In whisky, we acquired the American house Woodinville in 2017, in which we are investing to develop production capacity. We also took a small stake in WhistlePig. And we continue to develop Ardbeg and Glenmorangie. On rum, Eminente – created two years ago in Cuba – is a very good launch. The main challenge now is to develop the brand industrially to increase volumes while maintaining the same level of quality as today. And then there is tequila, with Volcan de mi tierra, created in 2017 with the Gallardo family. But our portfolio is not going to stop there, especially in tequila and whiskey.
“Hennessy is by far our number one brand”
What about cognac?
We are leaders and Hennessy is by far our number one brand. It continues to grow. But Hennessy is actually several brands – VSOP, XO and Paradis – for which we have different profiles, distribution channels and production methods. Currently, we are investing in the very high-end part – Paradis – for which we are creating new expressions and new packaging, with the possibility of personalizing its bottle. We have also decided to open stores, in China in particular, after a first point of sale at Harrods in London. We are also strengthening our partnership with the NBA. Because Hennessy is not just a brand, but an environment.
What about France, its cradle?
Historically, cognac has sold poorly in France, at least in recent years. The biggest markets are the United States and Asia. However, more and more European countries are growing and, in France, we see the very beginnings of an expression of interest in different sub-sectors: nightlife, bars, hip hop, but also home for the tasting. But it’s still a small market.
You acquired the Joseph Phelps vineyard in June 2022. You joined forces with Jay Z by taking over 50% of Armand de Brignac… What guides your choices of buyouts or equity investments?
It depends on the opportunities. I have a reading key when I am interested in a case: will it still exist in 100 years? If the answer is no, I’m not watching. We are a family group that invests for the long term. It is a fundamental criterion. A business can work very well because it is in tune with the times, but if it does not have the substance to get out of the ephemeral, that does not interest us.
The wine and spirits sector is also challenged by ecological challenges. You organized the first edition of the World Living Soils Forum in early June in Arles. What are the group’s priorities in terms of the environment?
Sustainable development is in the genes of our houses: historically, the earth had to be able to benefit future generations as it had benefited the founders. In 2000, Moët Hennessy obtained responsible culture and sustainable development certification for all of its activity. When we took stock of this two or three years ago, we looked at the next step and defined the subject of soils.
Why floors, specifically?
Because they are the basis of all production: vines, agave, sugar cane… They are now threatened by desertification and pollution. However, if we lost the soil, the effect on our professions would be even worse than that of global warming, because we would no longer be able to feed the population. They are also very large carbon sensors since, in healthy soil, there is a whole mass of micro-organisms (fungi, insects, bacteria, etc.). However, it is a very complex and still poorly understood subject. An example: we know how to improve biodiversity, we know how to measure it, but we do not yet know at what level this impacts the quality of the grape. We do a lot of things intuitively, but we have little data. We therefore wanted to open this subject to the entire profession, including our competitors. Following this forum, we will publish a white paper. And from Moët Hennessy’s point of view, this encourages us to move forward in Research & Development. We need a top down view.
“If we lost the soil, the effect on our businesses would be even worse than that of global warming”
“Premiumization” is also one of your areas of development. How to ensure a high level of quality with twenty-five houses?
My role is to make sure that behind each house there is a president with strong leadership, real involvement and a vision to be able to take the brand to higher and higher levels, while respecting its DNA and its founder. For us, the founders are very important people. They are a compass. This is also the basis of the success of the LVMH group.
The non-alcoholic is growing strongly. Isn’t this a hindrance for your market?
This trend is very positive in terms of health. What we notice is a tendency of consume less, consume better (consume less, but better). We see ourselves as the beneficiary of this “premiumisation”.
You open shops. Do you also plan to create bars, like other bands?
We have projects… In the short term, we are already going to showcase our Eminente rum, through the Casa Eminente which opens in Paris in December for six months. In a Cuban atmosphere, we can discover our rums, the best cocktails with the best bartenders in Europe, Cuban gastronomy, works of art…