An entrepreneurial spirit

Christophe Navarre, Chairman of the Board, Vinexpo, outlines the organisation’s global ambitions and explains some of the key innovations at Vinexpo Bordeaux 2019.

After an illustrious career that has involved a commercially successful spell as CEO of LVMH wine and spirits division Moet-Hennessy, industry veteran Christophe Navarre recently decided to inject a greater degree of entrepreneurship into his professional life. As part of this switch in direction, he joined the supervisory board of leading wine and spirits trade exhibition brand Vinexpo two years ago. On the eve of Vinexpo Bordeaux, official magazine Vinexpo Daily asked him what changes the organisation has made since he joined the team.

The supervisory board was streamlined and restructured with the clear ambition to make Vinexpo the leading international brand in the wine and spirits trade exhibition business. And that is what we are in the process of doing. We have kept the DNA of the original Bordeaux event while expanding our portfolio of exhibitions around the world. In addition to our well-established events in Hong Kong and New York, we are launching a Shanghai exhibition in October and a Paris exhibition in January 2020. Paris, of course, is another French event, but the city’s iconic status means it reinforces Vinexpo’s position as both a global and a domestic platform for the wine and spirits sector.


What were the criteria for selecting these locations?

There is a very simple logic behind them, which is to follow the global expansion in the sector. North America, Europe and Asia are the key markets right now with the US and China driving a lot of growth. With Shanghai and Hong Kong in alternate years, we now have an annual presence in one of the key markets for many wine and spirits brands.

Is Shanghai primarily for companies seeking to import into China?

That’s definitely a signi cant part of it, but the exhibition is also an opportunity for Chinese players to build their business within their domestic market. I think it is early days for China as a country of origin exporting internationally, but I’m sure that will grow as well.

Can you envisage further expansion in the Vinexpo portfolio?

Yes, if there is a strong vision supported by a robust business plan. But that will be a decision for our new CEO Rodolphe Lameyse, who will get his first taste of Vinexpo in Bordeaux. If Rodolphe and his team believe there is a commercial case for further expansion then the board will consider it. Right now, though, I think all of us are focused on delivering the new cycle of events already announced. Keep in mind, however, that we have introduced Vinexpo Explorer as part of our portfolio. Explorer is another annual event that is held in wine regions that are trying to build their profile. The first one was in Austria in 2017, followed by Sonoma County, California last year and Beaujolais this year. These are immersive two- day events where retail market buyers are introduced to local wines by their producers.

Why is Rodolphe Lameyse the best person to run Vinexpo?

He has a lot of experience running international events in related sectors such as food and hotels. When you expand a brand like Vinexpo in the way we are doing you need the right leadership, and our view is that Rodolphe has the necessary expertise and experience.

What are the strengths of the Vinexpo brand that make it possible for you to further expand its footprint around the world?

Clearly heritage plays a big part – because the Bordeaux event has been running since 1981. Vinexpo has had its ups and downs, but it is firmly established as the best meeting place for wine and spirits companies to do business, to network and to learn about new trends in the global sector. At Vinexpo Bordeaux 2019, for example, we will welcome around 40,000 trade visitors and 1,600 exhibitors from 29 countries (including two new ones – Turkey and Vietnam).
At the same time, the brand has shown a willingness to innovate – embracing changes in production, distribution and marketing. The growth of WOW! (World of Organic Wines) at Vinexpo Bordeaux is an example. This year we will have around 150 rms from ten countries participating, with organic and biodynamic wines and spirits.

There are several other changes at Bordeaux this year that are about improving the ef ciency, effectiveness and reach of the exhibition. For example, with the support of the AANA (Nouvelle-Aquitaine Food Agency), the regional authority will be organising a ‘food meeting’ during Vinexpo Bordeaux, to attract new catering buyers to the show.

Is Vinexpo relevant to everyone in the wine and spirits chain?

You could argue that the major companies have the kind of distribution infrastructure that means they don’t need to come to Vinexpo. But I believe there are other important reasons to attend.

For example, Vinexpo Bordeaux 2019 has a symposium on climate change, an issue that affects us all and that we all have a responsibility to address. The full-day symposium will include three conferences exploring the effects of climate change on the world’s vineyards, vineyard management and winemaking, and the wine economy, respectively. Sessions will bring together some of the world’s foremost scientists, economists, academics and wine industry professionals, and will be followed by roundtables and debates.

I would cite another reason why major companies should attend Vinexpo events. In Paris, there will be a strong emphasis on the spirits business – with a 360 degree analysis of the sector. That means looking into the places that people drink, the bars, the concepts, their ambience etc. It also means putting a greater emphasis on the role of branding. I’m a real believer that brands create categories not vice versa. So there will be lots of great ideas in Paris about how new brands can build businesses from nothing in just a few years. I believe brands like Tito’s Vodka are interesting for any drinks producer.

What do you see as the major trends in the market?

IWSR’s most recent report tells us that the US will continue to be the biggest wine consumption market, but China is on course to overtake France as number two. So that gives an insight into why it makes sense for Vinexpo to be based in the markets it has selected so far.

As another initial observation I would add is that the wine market is forecast by IWSR to reach $207 billion a year by 2022, so we are talking about a very substantial economic contributor. Behind that headline gure, I think the key message is that consumers want to ‘drink less, but better’. The overall market is expected to grow by 2% by 2022, but the premium wine market (around $10-$20) will grow by 15%. So the message is that consumers are interested in quality products.

Are there any trends relating to younger, aka millennial, audiences?

There is evidence that younger audiences are attracted to roses and sweeter, sparkling wines, as we have seen from the success of Prosecco in the UK. That is in line with IWSR ndings, with sparkling wines’ volume set to grow from $28.9 bn. to $32.9 bn. by 2022.

Millennials as a segment of society are also very attracted to real world experiences, so potentially that makes them a good target for the wine tourism business. Wine tourism has been growing very signi cantly in recent years with countries like France benefiting, as the wine producing chateaux open their doors. For many countries, tourism is a very signi cant part of their economic activity.

What other themes do you think will be prominent in Bordeaux?

The impact of digital on the wine and spirits business is important in a couple of ways. Firstly, in terms of distribution, so I am pleased that we will have a conference panel discussing this subject which involves no less than four CEOs from leading e-commerce businesses. But equally valuable is the way dedicated websites and social media can help people learn about wines without fear of making mistakes. The information they get online helps them make the right choice, and that has the potential to support the growth in premium products.

How well are the key players in the sector adapting to challenges?

I think there is a good instinct for being exible and adapting to change in the wine industry because the sector has always been so affected by changes in the weather. And I witness a number of new brands that keep popping up in the market, this underlines the spirit of creativity and innovation. That is also true for the Vinexpo brand. This is a positive moment for us to seize the opportunity to grow internationally.

Any final insights you would like to add?

Vinexpo Bordeaux is a global event but I would also encourage visitors to enjoy the city of Bordeaux experience. This year there are enhanced opportunities for socialising ‘beyond the Vinexpo walls’ with free access to public transport and certain museums such as Cité du Vin on offer for all exhibitors and visitors; as well as the chance for exhibitors to invite clients and prospects to specially organised gala evenings.

Photo: Christophe Navarre, Chairman of the Board, Vinexpo