Hennessy, the world’s best-selling Cognac has for over 100 years made its home in the heart of Nigerians and has remained committed in delivering excellent cognac and world class consumer experiences. Christophe Wilsford – Business development Manager for Hennessy, during his first official visit in Nigeria sat down with Kelechi Ewuzie to discuss the Maison’s plans for the market and how it will continue to actively promote and support the country’s effervescent urban cultural scene.
Tell us about your journey with Hennessy, how did you get into wines and spirits?
My journey with the Maison Hennessy started in 2016. The decision to work for the Hennessy brand is rooted in the passion I see in the company and its commitment to deliver exceptional cognac and craftsmanship that transcends borders and unites cultures.
This specific heritage and craftsmanship, bring very luxurious products to consumers and allows them to experience great moments with their friends, families, whether at home or during social occasions.
Tell us about the rich Heritage of the Maison Hennessy
Maison Hennessy was created in 1765 by Richard Hennessy. Recall that Richard Hennessy, was an Irishman who decided to move to France to serve in the French Army, after which he picked interested in the business of Cognac and decided to enter the cognac trade with his son James Hennessy, and together they built this Cognac Empire that is today, the leader in the luxury wines and spirit industry.
Both Father and Son were able to achieve this feat because they had a very specific business vision, which was focused on excellence, quality and the need to have the best reputation possible in the wine and spirits industry. Today all the products of the brand bear that distinctive craftsmanship deployed, and this can be seen in various Hennessy bottles.
What are the long-term plans to expand Hennessy’s presence in the Nigerian market?
We have strong ambitions for different markets. Africa as a region is a major player for Hennessy. The region would be nothing without Nigeria. So, we have very high expectations for this market. Currently, Nigeria as a market is where the brand is focusing on to increase the relevance of the brand as much as possible.
In 2021, the Maison Hennessy celebrated its 100-year presence in Nigeria and as part of its tribute to Nigeria, there was also the launch of a limited-edition bottle which was designed specifically for the Nigerian market to celebrate the long-standing relationship between the Maison and Nigeria.
The limited-edition bottle is something that is very important to us as it also served as a give-back to the Nigerians for their spirit of resilience and Joire de vivre and we are very happy with the reception it got from Nigerians. This has further heightened our desire to do more, and we look forward to engaging in more initiatives for the Nigerian Market
Post Covid, how has the pandemic impacted business for Hennessy in Nigeria?
The Covid-19 pandemic was a very difficult time for everybody and businesses because nobody saw it coming. The pandemic was extremely new and presented a difficult situation for the business which the company faced creditably well.
Hennessy’s priority as a business during the pandemic was to immediately ensure that everybody was safe. We had to ensure our staff, business partners, trade partners and consumers were safe.
In terms of business initiatives, Maison Hennessy utilised this very precise moment in time of the pandemic to give back to our business partners and more specifically to our bartenders.
At Hennessy we strongly believe creativity is a true expression of freedom and should be protected irrespective of the situation people might be faced with, hence the launch of the ‘Hennessy my way’ by the Maison Hennessy.
This initiative which aimed at keeping our bartenders motivated and inspired during the lockdown has now become an annual project that has seen a lot of bartenders from all over the world come up with very creative ways to enjoy Hennessy.
What are some of the business trends you are noticing that are peculiar to the Nigerian market?
I would say that one of the impacts of the pandemic is that it shifted consumer trends and behaviours towards product consumption and how people socially engage. In Nigeria for instance, people have moved from the traditional night out to also partying in daytime high-energy social occasions.
There is also an increase in high-energy dining, people start off a lot earlier in the evening and during dinner settings.
What do you think is the secret to Hennessy being embraced by the Nigerian Market?
Hennessy prides itself to be at ease in the world. Remember that Richard Hennessy was an Irishman who began his business sojourn in France and has since ensured that Hennessy is the number 1 cognac Maison with presence in more than 143 countries across the globe. True success for us at Hennessy comes from exploring the world and creating opportunities. We are welcoming and welcomed all over the world and Nigeria is not an exception because over 100 years ago, Hennessy came to Nigeria and has made its home here amongst the good people of Nigeria who have embraced Hennessy.
Other than this, there is also the concept of shared value between Hennessy and Nigeria. Nigerians are known to be very resilient with a never stop, never settle attitude which is some of the values that Hennessy believes in, and this has in turn inspired Hennessy to remain committed to delivering excellent cognac and creating magical consumer experiences for Nigerians.
What does “Never Stop Never Settle” mean to you?
One way to describe the ‘Never Stop. Never Settle’ slogan is that it is a mindset that challenges you to always look towards the future, to look far beyond the Horizon, it also implies that you should never take for granted what you have built, but always push forward to the next level to ensure you are better tomorrow than you were today.
The beauty of this slogan is how it can be personal to different people to mirror their life’s realities.
How do you enjoy your cognac?
The beauty of Hennessy is its versatility. Hennessy can be enjoyed neat, on the rocks or as a cocktail. For me, it really depends on my mood and where and who I am with. When I’m out with my friends, I love my Hennessy as a cocktail or on the rocks.
What are the exciting projects coming up for Nigeria?
As usual, Hennessy has a lot of exciting projects lined up for Nigeria and in collaboration with the local team, we are working round the clock to ensure we continue creating magical experiences for our consumers.
The Hennessy Artistry platform is one of our strongest platforms which is situated deeply into the hearts of our consumers; from launching the first pan-African Cypher which featured the top rap artists from Nigeria, Kenya, SA, and Ghana, the reception has been very good and has given us insights into what we can do with Africa with Nigeria at the centre.
There are a lot of big plans for this year in Nigeria and I can’t wait to unveil them all to the consumers.
Kindly describe your impression about your visit to Nigeria in terms of Business culture, entertainment-wise and talents.
Well, this is my first time in Nigeria, and I am super happy to be here in Nigeria. So far it has been a very exciting trip. One thing I have observed is how welcoming Nigerians are. Also, Nigerians are very delightful and engaging people and they enjoy partying. There is also the energy that Nigerians have, it is one that is very positive and infectious and despite how short my trip is, I am already looking forward to coming back here more often and exploring other parts of the country.
There is also the power of influence. Nigeria as a country is very influential, they are trendsetters with strong cultural influences. Also, from the initiatives that I have seen so far, I dare say Nigeria has one of the most talented crops of people, so Nigeria is like a launch pad for a lot of global initiatives.