Women to Watch China 2013

Pernod Ricard's Liya Zhang Tempts China's Drinkers

Martell Cognac and Champagne Brands Are Growth Areas, But Come With Challenges

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Pernod Ricard has set the bar high for Liya Zhang, back in China after six years in international brand-management roles for the company in Paris and Singapore. Now, she is working hard to keep Martell the favorite cognac for exacting Chinese drinkers, and inspire them to drink more champagne.

Liya Zhang
Liya Zhang

That requires recruiting new consumers, especially women, in a market where drinkers are more and more discerning.

Under Ms. Zhang's direction, Martell is the first imported spirits brand to import more than one million cases a year to China, making Martell the market leader among all cognac with gross sales above $925 million.

To keep sales growing, Ms. Zhang co-branded a premium-grade cognac with the Chateau de Chanteloup, the picturesque French chateau that was the ancestral home of Jean Martell, who founded Cognac Martell in 1715. Now owned by Pernod Ricard, the chateau is used for events and training. In China, the Martell Chanteloup Perspective helped boost Martell's share in this premium segment from 6% to 20%.

Keeping Martell on top isn't easy. Chinese can be fickle, and affluent professionals like to experiment with new brands and spirits. Ten years ago, cognac consumption centered around business entertainment and banquets. Today, even in bars, Ms. Zhang said, "Cognac is a more personal lifestyle choice, because cognac is more expensive than whisky and other brown spirits. Our consumers are younger, more trendy and they drink cognac for themselves."

They also like to show off by displaying knowledge, rather than just money, an insight marketers need to use in their strategies and products, she said.

Ms. Zhang, who is brand director for the G.H. Mumm and Perrier-Jouet champagne brands as well as Martell cognac, is also in charge of making champagne a third growth area for Pernod Ricard after cognac and whisky.

Champagne is a trendy tipple for high-fliers in the biggest cities like Shanghai, but a tough sell nationwide. Champagne is sparkling, acidic and served cold, all contrary to the Chinese preference for sweeter drinks and warm beverages.

Ms. Zhang, a native of Shanghai, has spent her whole career at Pernod Ricard. Like many marketers today, her company's goal is to make China its biggest market.

"We're still on the way. [China is] currently No. 2 after the U.S. but that's pretty good, since five years ago, we were nowhere," she said.

Next: Sally Xiao

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