“Cava should be reflected more in prosecco than in champagne”

Three years after Henkell’s entry into Freixenet, Pere Ferrer, vice-president and CEO of the Freixenet group, is satisfied with the results of this union. Defender of young cava, he praises the business model of Italian sparkling wine.

How are sales this year?

– Last year only Freixenet brand sales went very well for us because we had a 5% growth worldwide. We were left with 99 million bottles sold. This year we are convinced that we will overcome the 100 million barrier, because we are recording reasonably positive numbers.

How have they managed to successfully dodge the covid crisis?

– When the pandemic broke out, we were clear that in the Spanish market we would have many problems, because without tourists consumption goes down a lot. Faced with this situation we went to find these consumers in their home countries, such as Germany and England. We changed the promotions we had planned to do in the domestic market and we did them in these countries. The solution, which seems very obvious, worked very well for us.

How do you explain that the two large family companies in the sector (Freixenet and Codorníu) have ended up partnering with foreign companies?

– In the case of both Codorníu and Freixenet, what has happened is that the generations have multiplied and the shareholders have diluted. In our case, there has come a time when the shareholder ends up having 7% of the company to share with six children. Faced with this situation, it may be better to leave than to stay with 1% and be more than fifty shareholders.

In recent years, the prestige and quality of cava within the same regulatory council has been widely questioned. Has cava lost its prestige?

– Cava, on a global scale, has not lost prestige. In fact, it is highly valued. An irrefutable proof is that Henkell has had an interest in coming here and making a great investment. And the same has happened with Codorníu [amb Carlyle]. That cava has these investors means that it is well valued.

And has it lost quality?

– No, he constantly wins, every year we do better than the last. In fact, we are putting means to be better qualitatively.

How, then, is it explained that the wineries that make up Corpinnat left the DO because they considered that cava should be prestigious?

– I have always said that they have been wrong, but everyone in their house does what they consider. It seems to me a mistake because a great virtue of cava is that we have made a mark. Consumers around the world know what it is. In our industry champagne is ahead of everyone and plays in another league. Then there is the prosecco, which is doing very well and has advanced us, something that did not happen in the year 2000, and then there is the cava. We’ve managed to make a mark and we have to build from that, losing that opportunity would be a mistake.

What has prosecco done so well to advance cava?

– It has much more flexible legislation regarding returns. In addition, when they have grown a lot they have expanded their area quickly and efficiently. As for the consumer, he has made a product very easy to drink, which is very popular with young audiences. In cava we have been very obsessed with making too complex products. Our mirror is champagne and maybe that’s what has hurt us. Instead, prosecco has done the opposite and has opted for very young and easy products, which everyone likes.

Should cava, then, be more mirrored in prosecco than in champagne?

– Yes, yes, it should be mirrored more in prosecco than in champagne. We have to learn from champagne because it must always be a reference and we need local cava to give prestige to the territory. But at the same time, the highest-volume cava, which accounts for 87%, does have to look more towards prosecco. They can follow ideas they have already carried out.

The new zoning and regulation of cava approved a year ago to give it prestige goes right in the way of champagne not prosecco …

– What can give business is to go to prosecco. In 2010 they made 200 million bottles and now they make 500 million. We have to try to get these hundreds of millions of bottles because we would run out of all the problems: we would lack grapes, more vineyards would have to be planted, the area would have to be expanded at full speed … end to current surplus problems in just over a year.

So how do you rate the new DO Cava plan, with which you did not agree much?

– The way it ended we more or less agree because it fixes part of the problem, which is what should go more towards champagne. But in the end, the reserve is only 13% of the cava and for the other 87% we need more ideas and initiatives. There are people inside the DO Cava who tell us that we make specific products but outside the DO. Then, however, we would not favor category, brand, and territory. In short, we need to listen more to the consumer and work for him.

Faced with the dilemma, has Freixenet considered leaving the DO?

– No, we want to work for cava.

And have they talked to the DO to boost that 87%?

– We constantly raise it in small committee. I am confident that changes will be seen in the next three or four years.

Should we brag about making cava, as he says, fresh?

– Yes, we should be proud of it. Do you think Italians are ashamed of prosecco?

Apart from the prestige of cava, the other big hot potato in the sector is the price that large companies pay per kilo of grapes to wine growers. They say that charging less than 30 cents per kilo is in deficit and Freixenet is in this barrier, as it pays 30 cents. Is it a fair price?

– The problem is that, due to the economic crisis of the covid, sales have fallen by 12% on a global scale, although in Freixenet last year we did very well. Stock levels are very high and for the price of grapes to go up they have to go down more. That’s why I think what would end these stock problems is to opt for solutions like the ones we discussed earlier, more imaginative. What we pay [pel raïm], however, is a difficult price for winemakers. We, my family, are. My father is the first supplier of grapes in Freixenet and therefore we suffer directly from it. They are very tight prices but they are not the lowest on the market.

Can you specify them?

– We pay about 30 cents [pel raïm collit a màquina]. What is taken in boxes of 25 kilograms we have raised a little this year, specifically two cents, from 33 to 35 cents. For old grape grapes we pay between 39 and 40 cents, and in special vinifications, products that need a lot of aging, we go up to 65 cents. At the same time we are closing annual contracts with amounts higher than last year and at the moment we are with a purchase growth of 20%.

But how do you tell a winegrower that Freixenet did very well in 2020 and that the price he pays for the grapes is, as you say, “difficult”?

– At the moment we are betting on buying more grapes, which will help to reduce stocks and, therefore, to ensure that in the future the situation is reversed. We are therefore helping with a medium- to long-term vision. The problem, however, is that we also need to be competitive. In Germany our brand is number two and every day we are competing against the first.

What would be the right price for you?

– I don’t know, putting a number is very difficult.

How many extra pounds of grapes are they buying compared to previous years?

– We do not mean the number for a competition issue. They are many tens of millions of pounds of grapes. What should also be looked at is the amount each of the cavista companies buys. Freixenet is, by far, the company that buys the most grapes on the market, and this is where the issue lies.

We talk about the future with Henkell. What goal have you set as a group in the medium term?

– We would like to reach 10% of the sparkling wine market share worldwide. We are currently at 8.5%, so we don’t have that much left.

Where would the growth come from to get to scratch that 1.5% they are missing?

– For the United States, where we are at between 6% and 7%, a percentage that we should double. We also need to grow in China and Latin America, especially in Argentina and Brazil. What has gone very well for us thanks to the union with Henkell is the Eastern European market, which, although not large markets, are important.

Finally, a curiosity: what cava do you take for your family celebrations?

– There is one that I really like which is the Freixenet DS (these are the initials of Dolors Sala). It’s a tribute to my grandmother, who is the person who was at the helm of the company since the Civil War. In addition, she was a great winemaker. I also like Glòria Ferrer. This one is made in California and is the name of my mother and my daughter.

And of the competition, what sparkling wine do you drink?

— … [somriu].

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