BY ANNA ZEITUNTSYAN
During one of his humor fueled shows back in May this year Vahe Berberian was talking about Armenian names. He was insisting that they better sound Asadour than Mark, because in the case of Asadour you will definitely be asked “What kind of name is that”? …and here is where your story of Armenians will be told…
To me this was a little more than a funny joke. We Armenians have a rich history, culture, traditions that we are proud of. We are ready to talk, present, exercise our eloquence and argue on that as much as we can.
And yet there not so many things that embody Armenian heritage and can be easily touched, enjoyed, and even tasted. In this regard, Armenian Brandy perhaps is the best credential for each Armenian no matter where he lives, what he does, and where he came from. The secrets of an international approach of the authentic Armenian Brandy we tried to reveal during our recent trip to Armenia where we met Ara Grigoryan, General Director of Yerevan Brandy Company.
ANNA ZEITUNTSYAN: Before coming to your office, we have been toured at the company’s visitor center. I must say it was wonderful. As it turns out you are hosting about 40 000 tourists a year, which is a big figure. How come?
ARA GRIGORYAN: The tradition of hosting high ranking guests at Yerevan Brandy Company goes back to mid 50’s and even earlier. Our archives keep fantastic materials about those visits, which mainly were private. Paying tribute to that tradition, we have decided to bring it into a new level and make it available for public. In fact, Ararat is not just a bestselling brandy or the leading brandy enterprise and so on, but it is also the brand with the richest history that has to be told. Frankly speaking, we didn’t invent here something brand new, there are very many world famous spirit brands that are proud to share their history via such a tool. Nevertheless, what is really new in the case of YBC is that Ararat museum finds its niche not only among brandy connoisseurs, but also in the segment of museum attractions. I am really pleased that today for a tourist coming to Armenia Ararat Museum is in the same line with Matenadaran, National Gallery, Kafeschian museum, etc . By the way, I believe we are the only spirit museum in the world that has been visited by 30 Heads of the states.
A.Z.: What do you mean?
A.G.: Almost always during the state, official or any visits the Presidents of the countries visit YBC. We even practice a very nice ritual of naming a special barrel in honor of the visit. We have already hosted presidents of Austria, Russia, Greece, Lebanon, Poland and many many others. Today there are around 30 named barrels kept for age gaining.
A.Z.: It has been 17 years that Yerevan Brandy Company is part of international Pernod Ricard group, the portfolio of which consists of such brands as Absolut, Chivas, Martell, Jameson etc. You are the person who literally observed the transition, as you are with Ararat since…
A.G.: since 1989…
A.Z.: So what has been changed?
A.G.: 17 years ago Pernod Ricard made the first big investment in Armenian economy. Though, there were many speculations on this back then, you see the time has clarified everything better than anyone could do.
I might say nothing has changed and I might say everything has changed. The thing is, I’ll be right in both cases. In fact, during these 17 years we have improved a lot – from the grape purchasing to technological equipment, from pioneering new business models and investments in Armenia to marketing, from production sites’ significant enlarging to export geography expanding. Deal’s importance lays in both cultural and socio-economic dimension. Not to mention each sphere of improvement specifically, I’d summarize saying that YBC today is the one of the key players in the Armenian economy. YBC is cooperating with 3000 farmers, buys around 38 million kilos of grapes, and invests around $10 million in production process and corporate social responsibility projects.
And yet we haven’t change the technology of brandy making that we had inherited from our ancestors. It by the way comes from the year of 1887 when a wealthy Armenian merchant Nerses Tairyants implemented the Charante Type of double distillation and founded the brandy production in Armenia.
Ararat is the hundred percent Armenian Brandy and this is what makes it so a global spirit market today.
A.Z.: How do you draw a line between being 100 percent Armenian and uncompromising international at the same time?
A.G.: In my opinion in today’s world of substitutes, people are seeking for something genuine. To a degree, today’s market saturation is so elusive. As a consumer, we observe it day by day, don’t we? That is why it becomes much more important to be able to provide authentic spirit in a highly overloaded market. In this matter keeping our origin is vital not only because it’s a part of tradition, but also because it is what we need today. Let me say, I think we all have friends or the friends of the friends who emigrate, get great education and succeed in their carriers outside Armenia, but no matter what language they speak, no matter where they live or what cuisine they eat they are Armenians. Maybe it’s not the best example, but the same with Ararat, it is not just a brandy made in Armenia, it is the brandy with the Armenian DNA in it.
What comes to its international aspect, probably it is sound like a revelation, but I can’t even count how many nationalities are involved in the diverse marketing team of Ararat – Armenians, French, Russian, etc. Probably this very diversity that provides filigree made solutions that make Ararat competitive in each market worldwide we enter.
It’s a win-win combination, we fill the genuine product in a European made bottles decorated with elements of Armenian medieval sculpture. This is a hard and laborious work, but this is what makes a bottle of Ararat so outspoken.
A.Z.: The Lion’s share of Ararat goes to export. Is that mean people in Armenia don’t appreciate it that much?
A.G.: More than 90 percent of Ararat is sent for export to the 30 countries worldwide. Converting from percentage into liters it makes 495 kilo liter for about 10 percent, which as you can see is not a small figure for sales in Armenia. It was and remains a part of our tradition. We drink Ararat when we get married; we drink Ararat to celebrate а birth of a baby, or just simply to enjoy a family get together.
Historically Ararat has been export oriented. Well, I guess partly because it perfectly conveys the warmth of Armenia (Ara Grigoryan chuckles –editor’s note). At that time, it was mainly exported to Russia. Actually, it was back then when the unchallenged superiority of Ararat has been established. There are some verified historical data saying that one of our brandies Ararat Dvin 10 years old (Dvin is available in US market now – editor’s note) was created in 1945 to be officially served at the meeting of Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin during Crimea conference.
With entering into Pernod Ricard we have significantly diversified our countries of export. Today the Ararat map includes Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Middle Asia, CIS countries, and the US.
But here I’d like to share with the tendency we observe which seems much more important than a mere figures. You know, sometimes a single episode from life is much more eloquent than a 100-page marketing research. A couple of month ago standing in the line of the Liquor store in US, I was right after a guy, a millennial of Armenian origin, who was looking for some staff to celebrate his engagement party. I was sure he could afford anything but he chose Ararat Nairi 20-year-old. Honestly, I was so tempted to ask him “why”?
A.Z.: Did you?
A.G.: No, unfortunately I didn’t. But this is what Ararat is about. It goes through the time…As I said, you can’t demand any explanations from your DNA.
A.Z.: What did you make to export to US along with all that 30 countries?
A.G.: One of the pillars in our export strategy is to send Ararat to the places where the Armenian Diaspora is. We try to concentrate Ararat around Armenians who live abroad. Who can be better ambassador of Armenian heritage? On the other hand, Ararat is something that is able to deliver a piece of Armenian Sun and to a degree unite Armenians all over the world. So, in some sense with the big diaspora living in America we had to export US as well. And, knock on the wood, the demand is getting higher and higher.
A.Z.: Did you meet any obstacles? Does the new US market make you create a specific approach in terms of marketing, bottling and packaging?
A.G.: First of all, I would like to underline that all the Ararat brandies are bottled in Yerevan in the same place. This is to ensure the advanced European standards of production quality & safety we apply. And second, we have only one bottling and packaging design for all the countries of export. The bottle you’ll meet, let’s say, in Austria will be the very same you’ll see in US. It will bear the Phoenix on the “neck” which symbolizes the rebirth of Armenia, the ornaments engraved in the glass on the bottom and, of course, ArArAt with capitalized «A» Letters.
The United States is a really oversaturated market in terms of spirits, where the very good brandies and cognacs are represented. However, I believe there are very many true connoisseurs as well, so Ararat will definitely find its consumers.
What comes to marketing, you know, sometimes it’s not so easy to create an appropriate positioning for the brand with the rich history in a brand new market. But, I think our newly opened representative in US and a skillful team that we have there, will be able to provide us with «on ground» solutions. After all, it is always very challenging to “think outside the box.”