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Life in the fast lane at Douwe Egberts France.

Life in the fast lane at Douwe Egberts France

The French, like other people in our western consumer culture, have been familiarized with many coffee brands. However, there are actually only two, perhaps three, coffee `names' that through time have earned nearly universal recognition in France. One of these is Maison du Cafe. The name registers more than commercial power, like Gauloises cigarettes, its ranks as something of a cultural totem even among those who don't drink coffee.

This sort of status is of course priceless and helps explain the special regard Douwe Egberts has for the name and the products that represent it. Douwe Egberts France is many things: it manages the production and marketing of a variety of well regarded food products under the Benenuts and Benedicta labels; in coffee, the company has also acquired, as of two years ago, the Elephant Noir company in Toulouse. Nevertheless, Maison du Cafe clearly sets the tone and image for the company as a whole. For Douwe Egberts France, the Maison du Cafe trademark is a long term asset.

The man developing and guarding this invaluable asset is Jan Goddaert, president and director general of Douwe Egberts France. Goddaert is a Belgian national, formerly with Douwe Egberts in Brussels, who has directed the French company for the past two years. Given his schedule, one must be mobile and lucky to catch Goddaert, which is why in this instance we are talking in his car, en route from Douwe Egberts France headquarters in suburban Paris to the Gare du Nord at the heart of the city.

Traffic is heavy and typically belligerant, but Goddaert copes like a Parisian taxi driver, which somehow brings to mind the topic of DE's multinational character. "DE has not just arrived in France," explains Goddaert. "We created the Jacques Varbre brand, in the early 70's, then let it go. We bought Maison du Cafe from Van Nelle in 1976. It's the same as driving, in time you must fit in with the flow, like everyone else. This is a home market for us. We are proud of the Maison du Cafe tradition in France. In in any case, I don't think `nationalism' is a major factor in coffee, which has such a strong international imagery--green coffee from Latin America, from Africa, from the Far East."

Coffee production for De France is centered at the giant Andrezieux plant near Saint-Etienne. Andrezieux produced the equivalent of five billion cups of Maison du Cafe last year, with the brand family holding 17 percent of the French retail market. Serving a large regional market from its plant in Toulouse, Elephant Noir reduced 4000 tons of roasted coffee in 1988 and held 1.5 percent of the national market. In sum, DE France has better than 18 percent of the French retail market.

The company also markets to the out-of-home sector, accounting for 25 percent of French consumption. DESP (Douwe Egberts Service Professionals) was created in 1985 and has been a success; in 1988 DESP sales of concentrate rose by 20 percent, roasted coffee sales increased by 55 percent. One now drinks Maison du Cafe at the bars in Paris' Orly Airport and in several important and prestigious places all over France, such as the "Cafe de la Paix."

DE France sold about 40,000 tons of coffee last year and ranks a respectable, if not close, second place to Jacobs on the national market.

"The retail market is 95 percent of our business," says Goddaert, inching the car forward to prevent an overly aggressive van from sneaking into the lane ahead of us. "There we are now concentrating on long term results. Last year we did a five million francs study on the coffee market, quality expectations, brand recognition, and so forth. As a result we are changing everything, starting now--blends, packaging, image. When we took up Maison du Cafe, it held four percent of the market. In 10 years its grown rapidly, largely on price positioning. But we firmly believe you can't win in the long term on price. We are remarketing, putting our money behind supporting a special quality for the Maison du Cafe name in France. We are looking beyond month-to-month figures toward building a sound market base for the future."

French coffee consumption has increased slightly in recent years but the retail market is decidely matured, distinguished by fierce marketing battles among the large companies for only marginal growth. DE France has managed to increase its share, slightly, by dent of intense advertising and keeping abreast of trends.

Increasingly, marketing strategies and new brand launches have revolved around France's fashionable `100% Arabica' genre, which has seen striking growth in the 80's and now holds about 30 percent of retail sales.

"Personally speaking," Goddaert gives a firm but polite toot of the horn at an unpleasant Peugeot, "I believe the industry has fallen into a misleading classification of coffee qualities with the strict distinction between Robusta and Arabica. It was a marketing trend that has gotten out of hand. For the good of the industry we ought to be promoting what market research has shown to be the primary expectation for good coffee--full bodies aroma and taste. This of course means `blend,' I would prefer a top quality blend market where we could optimize quality Robusta and Arabica.

As important as coffee is in French life, it surprisingly does not have wide appreciation, in France of all nations, for its gourmet properties. Although this indifference is changing, coffee is far from receiving the same sort of appreciation awarded to wine.

Says Goddaert, "Coffee quality has improved markely in France, but is still a problem. The poor coffee, chicory mixtures, etc. of the war and postwar era have left a lingering impression. But the French taste is justifiably renowned, very refined. The evolution for coffee is promising. Now, however, we have a threat from soft drinks. Just as in the U.S., the choice in drinking habits has multiplied here. We have new trends in warm and cold beverage drinking. The age of `Snacking' is coming here too."

While still in Brussels, Goddaert was influential in implementing the Belgium Coffee Promotion program, which has proven quite successful. Obviously, for him, coffee is something more than a mass consumer product.

He emphasizes this with a sigh as the car slips into the Gare du Nord parking. "Coffee is so very natural and special, what a pity it would be to let it lose to soft drinks."

PHOTO : Maison de Cafe is the flagship brand of Douwe Egberts France, whose president is Jan

PHOTO : Goddaert. DE France has headquarters in Le Blanc Mesnil, a suburb of Paris.

PHOTO : DE France produces the range of Maison du Cafe brands at the Andrezieux plant. The

PHOTO : Elephant Noir production is based in Toulouse. Maison du Cafe is one of the bestknown

PHOTO : names in coffee in France and holds 17% of retail coffee sales.
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Title Annotation:Maison du Cafe
Author:Bill, Jonathan
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Article Type:company profile
Date:Jun 1, 1989
Words:1161
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