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Not Shaken, Not Stirred: James Bond's Champagne Of Choice Is Crisis Proof

PARIS - "An exceptional year for Bollinger champagne..." Considering the current economic situation, Jérôme Philipon's comment is refreshing indeed.

Even as the overall champagne market was down by 5% at the end of September, the family-run Bollinger producers predict record sales for 2013, says Philipon, the CEO of the champagne house. He expects a growth of 3 to 5% in 2012, following an impressive 8% last year.

What’s Bollinger’s secret? Bond, James Bond -- who only drinks Bollinger champagne. The huge success of Skyfall, the franchise’s latest installment, is the perfect opportunity for the champagne house to put its 2002 vintage in the limelight.

Bottled especially for the film, the 002 for 007 limited edition is a nod to Her Majesty’s most stylish secret agent. The box containing the bottle comes in the shape of Bond’s Walther PPK gun, and opens only when the purchaser unlocks the "secret" code – 007, obviously.

"This kind of special bottle only means additional sales for us," says Philipon.

Consumers like it so much that Bollinger estimates that the limited edition, sold at 150 euros, is responsible for 20% of this year’s growth. "It’s a huge hit everywhere," says the Bollinger chief. "Except in Spain, where consumers are reluctant to associate the brand with James Bond. And Russia, where they’re not big on weapon-related products..."

[Photo: Champagne Bollinger]

Bollinger did not have to pay rights for references to the film on its labels, since the champagne house reached a deal with the Broccoli family that controls the James Bond film franchise.

The world’s most famous spy is not solely responsible for such good results: Investing 12 million euros in a brand new production site in Oger in northeastern France proved very successful. So does Bollinger’s new bottle, inspired by the model sold in 1846, and which aims at differentiating the brand from its competitors.

"We represent less than 1% of the volume of champagne sales," says Philipon. "We will only succeed if we are able to distinguish ourselves."

Added to this is a big change in strategy: Bollinger is historically linked to the United Kingdom – a market that used to account for 40% of the brand’s exports.

But the estate has learned a lesson from what it calls "the 2009 disaster," when England and several other foreign markets almost completely closed their doors to Bolly’s bubbles.

As a result, the shares – Bollinger then exported 85% of its bottles -- plunged by 55% in the first quarter. The brand’s goal today is to become less dependent on the United Kingdom and conquer market shares back home in France.

Bollinger is now the most served brand at the Mandarin Oriental and Shangri La hotels in Paris. "It’s easy for us to gain more market shares in France," says Philipon, "considering how low we’ve started." 

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