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Economy

How Italian Spritz Craze Conquered France

The Italian aperitif Aperol, served with sparkling wine, has now charmed France, a country with no shortage of its own spirits.

The Italian drink has taken over France
The Italian drink has taken over France
Stefano Lupieri

PARIS — Just 2,640 gallons of the Italian aperitif Aperol were consumed in France in 2011, but by 2014 it had grown so popular here that the number grew to 132,000. The projection for 2015 is nearly 200,000 gallons. These figures are much more useful than words to understand the fledgling French love affair with this Italian spirit.

It's rare for a new beverage to become so popular in a new market, particularly one such as France, which is steeped in culinary tradition. But the strategy of Italian spirits company Campari has panned out beyond its wildest dreams. Before France, it put its product to the test in other countries. Since being bought by Campari in 2003, Aperol quadrupeled its sales thanks to the international market. It's now a billion-dollar project whose growth last year reached 7%.

The marketing campaign has heavily promoted the beverage, which has an alcohol content of 15%, via a cocktail known as the Aperol Spritz.

Campari was smart enough to associate the name Aperol with spritz to launch it. The recipe is simple: three parts Prosecco (an Italian sparkling white wine), two parts Aperol and one of sparkling water.

"We started by training bartenders to prepare the cocktail in fancy places," says Stéphane Cronier, chief of spirits at the French supplier Rothschild France Distribution (RFD). "The reason why it worked so well is because it costs much less to prepare than a Mojito and therefore allows hotels and bars to have a greater margin when selling the beverage."

RFD was initially conservative in its distribution channels. It wasn't placed on the national market until 2014. Campari made massive media investments to promote the drink, buying 5,000 billboards ads in 20 French cities. Today, 60% of its sales are in supermarkets.

"In all the countries where this progressive market invasion has been carried out, the strategy has paid off," Cronier says. "It's slow when it starts, but once it's launched, the sales grow exponentially."

It's safe to say the comany, and French drinking culture, are enjoying a "spritzmania." The goal now is to consolidate this success. "This cocktail has the potential to be the second or third most popular in France," Cronier says.

In Venice, 200 glasses of spritz are reportedly sold every minute.

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