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One of the joys of my job is to meet and interview a fascinatingly diverse array of artisans and creators of wonderful products from all around the world. Some of them – for example Beam Suntory Master Blender Ron Welsh who I chatted with a few days ago by Zoom as clearly as if we were in the same room – are associated with world-renowned brands across categories such as spirits (in his case Scotch whisky), skincare and chocolate.
But equally, I also get the chance to talk with the men and women behind products and brands that many of you in the travel retail community may not have heard of. One example is Jean Michel Mortreau, founder of French company Saveurs & Nature, who not only makes exquisite organic chocolates – “to offer all chocolate lovers a sweet escape” as he puts it – but underpins his products with admirable principles designed to make the world a better and more sustainable place.
“My aim is to promote sustainability in every piece of chocolate, with the utmost respect for the people and resources of our planet,” Jean Michel told me in our interview. “Our chocolates are 100% organic, made from certified cocoa beans and do not include soy lecithin, palm oil, gluten and preservatives. And our cardboard packaging is sourced from sustainably managed forest.”
Helping cocoa producers is another critical tenet of the business. By creating direct links with producers, Jean Michel has pursued an unstinting commitment to better remunerating growers to enable them to improve their living and working conditions. Saveurs & Nature is also committed to ensuring that the farmers’ mode of production is respectful of the environment and forms part of a sustainable ecosytem.
Last year Saveurs & Nature launched a travel retail-exclusive range called Les Chocolats de Pauline (named after one of Jean Michel’s daughters), following the appointment of long-time Valrhona executive Eric Carlier as Travel Retail Director.
The chocolate is, as one would expect, superb but the timing couldn’t have been any worse. Not only did the COVID-19 pandemic stop the travel retail sector in its tracks but as a result of the economic pressures that have resulted, many retailers are paring down their ranges and focusing on best-sellers only.
As Auckland Airport Head of Retail Lucy Thomas said during last month’s APAC Dialogue webinar run by The Moodie Davitt Report and APTRA, “Talking to a leading travel retailer recently, I was struck by what they said – that the core is now focused around those items they know will sell. The consumer is used to seeing a full range in generous square metreage on the High Street, but at the airport they won’t get to see that. They will see less stock in fewer square metres, with the retailer committing to selling what sells well.
“So as airport, retailer and brand, can we offer range, excitement and variety when the consumer sees exactly what they saw two years ago simply because it sells to the majority?”
Bravo Lucy, that’s a very good question and underlines one of the key dilemmas facing travel retail as the sector emerges battered and bruised from the pandemic. Yes, a travel retailer must focus on products with proven consumer demand but should that consolidation spell the exclusion of new and exciting products such as Les Chocolats de Pauline that are underpinned by values demanded by a new generation of consumers?
Take a look at the Pauline loves China presentation below. Beautiful. And the chocolates are sublime. Tell me that such an item would not appeal to Chinese shoppers once they start to travel internationally again. Paring down is understandable. Dumbing down will be a short-sighted mistake. Let’s not miss out on Jean Michel’s sweet escape. His superb chocolates – and his beloved daughter – deserve better than that.