Marie Brizard & Roger International S.A. History
33002 Bordeaux Cedex
Telephone: (33) 5.56.01.85.85
Fax: (33) 5.56.01.85.99
Sales: FFr1.9 billion (1996)
Stock Exchanges: Paris
SICs: 2084 Wines, Brandy & Brandy Spirits; 2085 Distilled & Blended Liquors; 2086 Bottled & Canned Soft Drinks
While most companies are content to count their histories in years, Marie Brizard & Roger International S.A. count theirs in generations. With the tenth generation represented among the company's leadership and principal shareholders, the Bordeaux-based alcoholic beverage producer is one of France's oldest continuously operated, family-controlled enterprises. Famed for its anisette cordials--indeed, many credit the company with originating the anisette de Bordeaux category--Marie Brizard has developed an extensive portfolio of company-produced and licensed alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, as well as a worldwide distribution network, enabling the company to maintain its independence despite the intense consolidation of the industry during the 1980s and 1990s.
Part of Marie Brizard's longevity is credited to the company's early implementation of a diversified product line. Indeed, the company's flagship anise-flavored cordial, the renowned Marie Brizard anisette, accounted for just seven percent of the company's annual revenues in 1996. The Marie Brizard label also includes an extensive range of fruit-flavored liqueurs, and popular aperitifs and digestifs including Chocolat Royal, Charleston Follies, and Védrenne. The company's Old Lady's gin is one of France's top-selling gins, with sales of some 1.5 million bottles per year. The company-produced spirits line also include Berger Blanc and Berger Pastis anise-liqueurs, Gautier cognac, Lochmore Scotch whiskey, and Mohawk vodka . Marie Brizard also distributes a range of licensed labels, including Whyte & Mackay whiskeys in France, Cutty Sark in Australia, and the rums Le Mauny and Duquesne in France, and Gosling's in the United States. Together, the spirits category accounted for 34 percent of Marie Brizard's 1996 sales.
Marie Brizard has also diversified beyond alcoholic beverages, allowing the company to weather the declining consumption--spurred in part by heavy taxes imposed on purchases of alcoholic beverages--of the 1980s and 1990s. Marie Brizard and its subsidiaries hold leadership positions in the fruit juices, syrups, and concentrates segments. The company's Cidou brand is France's leading fruit juice label in the brick category. The company's Sport, Lieutard, Védrenne, and Altovisto syrups--popularly mixed with carbonated and non-carbonated water--capture strong sales in the bottled and premium categories. The company also leads the fruit juice concentrates category with its Pulco brand. In 1996, the non-alcoholic beverages category represented 43 percent of company sales.
Marie Brizard also produces and distributes a range of wines, champagnes, and sparkling wines, some of which originates from the company's own vineyards. Champagnes are represented by the company's house brands Philipponnat and Abel Lepitre, as well as agency brands including Mommessin in the United States and Australia, and Rothschild in the United States. Marie Brizard sparkling wine labels include Grandin des Caves de la Bouvraie, Paul Bur, and Veuve du Vernay, while the company's still wines include the labels Bodega Rioja Marques del Puerto in Spain and Hermit's Brook and Kindelwood, in Australia. Under the Duc de Birac label, Marie Brizard also produces its pineau des Charentes, a French regional favorite.
Despite the emergence of such global beverage distribution giants as Seagram, Grand Met, and France's own Pernod-Ricard, Marie Brizard has developed a strong international presence, with sales of its products in more than 150 countries. France remains the company's strongest source of revenues, accounting for 67 percent of 1996 sales. Spain, with 10 percent of sales, and the United States, with six percent of sales, represent the company's most important international markets. In conjunction with its distribution network, Marie Brizard, which operates more than 10 production and distribution facilities in France, has also developed a global production presence, with plants in Spain and Portugal, and sales networks in the United States, Belgium, Netherlands, Australia, and Japan.
Marie Brizard is led by CEO Paul Glotin, representing the eighth generation of the founding family. Unlike many family-owned firms, however, Marie Brizard has long incorporated non-family members in key management and directorship positions, and the company celebrated its 10th anniversary as a public company--listed on the Paris secondary market--in 1994. Family members wishing to join the company must fulfill a number of criteria, and even then must wait for a position to open. In 1996, the company posted revenues of FFr1.9 billion, down slightly from the year before. The company's earnings have also been under pressure at the mid-point in the decade, posting net losses of FFr24 million and FFr37 million in 1995 and 1996, respectively.
A Taste for the 18th Century
Marie Brizard represented a rarity in 18th century French economic life. Where women were, for the most part, shut out of commerce, Marie Brizard not only led her own company, but founded the company herself. Unmarried at the age of 41, Marie Brizard&mdashcording to company legend--gave part of her time nursing the ill in Bordeaux's hospitals. One of her patients had come to France from one of the country's colonial islands. Grateful for her care, the patient gave Marie Brizard the recipe for an elixir popular in his home country, a beverage purported to possess all manner of properties conducive to good health. Marie Brizard's determination to perfect and produce this beverage, as the legend continued, came more from altruism than from commercialism.
In reality, anise-flavored drinks had already made their appearance earlier in the century. Marie Brizard's father, Pierre, owned a small distillery and produced anisette prior to his death in 1743. The distillery would eventually be transferred to Marie Brizard's name in 1755, coincidentally when Pierre's creditors won a judgment demanding that Pierre's debts be paid. In that year, Marie Brizard joined with Jean-Baptiste Roger, married to one of her nieces, who brought in a supply of capital, while Marie Brizard supplied the family-owned distillery equipment. The company's operations officially started in 1755, purchasing green anise from Spain and installing itself in a distillery in Bordeaux to produce its anisette. The beverage proved a quick success in the court of King Louis XV, and soon became a popular liqueur among France's privileged class.
The company soon added the "international" element to its name. At the time, Bordeaux was one of the most important ports in Europe, particularly through its position in the spice trade. As Marie Brizard's anisette recipe was dependent on imported spices, the company began trading bottles of its anisette for spices, bringing the Marie Brizard label to such French territories as Haiti and Louisiana by the early 1760s. By the end of the century, the company was firmly established and prosperous.
Jean-Baptiste Roger died in 1795, and his share of the company was transferred to his widow. Marie Brizard would die in 1801, at the age of 87. By then, however, Marie, with no children of her own, had transferred the company to Roger's widow and sons. While prosperous, the company entered the 19th century a relatively modest concern in a field crowded with anise-flavored drinks. Yet, by the end of the century, Marie Brizard had seen most of its competitors disappear. Marie Brizard itself had earned a reputation for its quality, top-shelf liqueur. Another factor in the company's success was its longstanding refusal to allow nepotism to play a part in its management. Family members wishing to enter the business were required to gain a strong degree of experience. At the same time, the company showed no reluctance in hiring talent from outside the family. The company had also begun diversifying beyond anisette, launching its own cognac in the 1860s, bitters in the 1870s, a creme de cocoa in 1880, a creme de menthe in 1890, while also producing cherry and apricot brandies and other fruit-flavored liqueurs. The diversification performed well for the company, which saw sales rise from 21 million ancient francs in the 1870s to 71 million ancient francs at the turn of the century.
Expanding in the 20th Century
While exports had continued to build during the 19th century, it was in the early decades of the 20th century that foreign sales began to take on a true importance for the company. Marie Brizard first looked toward Spain, a premier producer of anise and one of the largest markets for anise-flavored drinks. In 1904, Marie Brizard opened its first foreign sales branch and warehouse, in the Spanish Pyrenees region. In 1924, the company installed its first Spanish distillery. Over the next 60 years, the company would expand its Spanish production capacity to three plants, and capture more than 30 percent of Spain's anise-beverage market.
As Marie Brizard continued to build its sales of anisette to the foreign market, the company also recognized the need to diversify its offerings. At the turn of the century, the company had launched a new creme de cocoa label, Topaze, which proved a strong success. Following World War I, Marie Brizard began developing its product line, clinging to alcoholic beverages, starting with rum, with the Charleston label, and soon followed by gin, under the Old Lady's label, the latter building in sales to become the top-selling gin in France. The company also launched an intensive expansion program, modernizing and building new production facilities. Growth slowed during the Depression years and sales continued to remain slow through the years following World War II. Nonetheless, by the late 1950s, the company's sales were topping 100 million ancient francs. During the 1950s, the company also began making a strategy shift, adding the distribution of other brands to its own brand names. One of the first of these came in 1956, when Marie Brizard sought to add a new spirits category, Scotch whiskey. For this, the company teamed up with another family-run enterprise, the William Grant Company of Scotland, becoming the exclusive French distributor for that company's Grant's whiskey--which would become the largest-selling whiskey in France, and the eighth-largest worldwide--and later Glenfiddich and Clan MacGregor labels.
In the early 1970s, however, Marie Brizard was quick to recognize the clouds looming over the alcoholic beverages industry. A number of factors were beginning to place pressure on liquor sales: the rising health concerns, particularly the recognition of alcoholism as a disease, coupled with increasing dietary and weight consciousness, which saw digestif consumption--the primary market for anisette--decline in favor of continued aperitif consumption. The 1970s also saw the first in a long series of increasing tax burdens on alcohol sales. In 1973, Marie Brizard took the first step beyond the alcoholic beverage category, forming an association with the fruit juice specialist Ralli, of Aubagne, to create a line of citrus-flavored fruit juice drinks. In 1975, the company launched the first in its line of Pulco concentrated fruit juice drinks, Pulco Citron, which was followed by Pulco Orange. The Pulco launch was a success: in four years, sales of the fruit juices quadrupled, reaching FFr58 million, and Marie Brizard captured some 90 percent of the category it had invented. The Pulco brand also found success beyond the French border in Belgium, Germany, and Spain. In 1980, Marie Brizard acquired Ralli, marking the company's first acquisition.
The company remained a fairly modest operation, with sales of FFr360 million and 350 employees in the early 1980s. But Marie Brizard, by then led by Paul and Gérard Glotin, the eighth generation of the Roger line, was preparing to step up the company's expansion. The first step towards this end came in 1981, when the family-owned company opened its capital to outside investors, selling six percent of the company. This step was followed by a public offering in 1984, when the company was listed on the Paris secondary market. This move, however, would introduce waves in the longstanding relationship between Marie Brizard and William Grant. At the offering, the Grant family company--wary of this breach in the tradition of family ownership--bought up the majority of the shares introduced to the public. Yet, even with nearly nine percent of Marie Brizard's shares, the Grant family found itself excluded from Marie Brizard's board of directors and its decisions regarding the company's future.
Meanwhile, Marie Brizard was preparing to round out its beverages offerings. In 1987, the company moved into the champagne category, acquiring Champagne Philipponnat label and production operations. Two years later, Marie Brizard added the company Grand Champagnes de Reims and its Abel Lepitre label. While the move into champagne proved less than successful--and would eventually drag the company into the red in the 1990s--Marie Brizard found fortune through a number of other expansion moves. In 1988, the company acquired SLJFB Vedrenne, the leading producer of cassis de Bourgogne liqueurs.
Other acquisitions followed in the early 1990s. In 1991, the company expanded its non-alcoholic beverages sales with the purchases of the Abel Bresson line of syrups, popularly mixed with carbonated and non-carbonated water, and the Cidou brand of fruit juices. At the same time, Marie Brizard was also putting in place a distribution network that would enable it to survive as an independent despite massive consolidation in the distribution industry. Faced with competing against global goliaths such as Seagram and Guinness, Marie Brizard began developing what it dubbed its "spiderweb strategy," building, through joint-ventures and alliances, a European distribution network among other independent and family-owned beverage producers, including Codorniu of Spain, Peter Eckes of Germany, and O'Darby of Ireland. Meanwhile, Marie Brizard also set up a Netherlands-based holding company, Marie Brizard European Development, to oversee the company's future acquisition activities.
Between 1991 and 1995, the company stepped up its expansion, both in France and overseas. The company acquired Mohawk, a vodka producer and distribution network in the United States, renamed as Marie Brizard Wines and Spirits USA, and purchased a distributor, Pat Foods, for its products in Australia. The company also acquired Caves Altovisto, adding that company's wines, sparkling wines, and other liqueurs and spirits, as well as a distribution arm in Portugal. In Belgium, the company added the Cinoco distribution network. By 1993, the company's sales reached FFr1.8 billion, more than four times its revenues just ten years earlier.
The tensions building between Marie Brizard and William Grant, however, came to a head at the beginning of 1994. As of January 1994, the Grant family announced that it was ending its 35-year-old relationship with Marie Brizard, having secretly reached an agreement with another French distributor. The loss of the Grant distributorship caused a crisis at Marie Brizard, which saw its revenues plunge to FFr1.4 billion for the 1994 year.
Nonetheless, by the end of 1995, Marie Brizard was able to overcome the Grant loss, rebuilding revenues to more than FFr1.9 billion. In 1994, Marie Brizard found a new Scotch whiskey distribution partner in Whyte and Mackay, and also added several other labels, including Janneau amargnac, Ferrieira port, and La Mauny rum. These new distribution agreements helped to buffer some of the sales slump due to the Grant loss. Aiding the company's sales was its January 1995 purchase of Marseilles-based Berger, a producer of anise drinks, syrups, and sparkling wines founded in 1923.
Absorbing Berger, which posted FFr815 million in sales in 1994, would give Marie Brizard a slight case of indigestion--coupled with continued losses in its champagnes segment, the restructuring effort following the Berger merger would dip Marie Brizard into the red, with net losses of FFr24 million and FFr37 million for 1995 and 1996, respectively. In February 1995, however, Marie Brizard was buoyed somewhat when it was awarded damages of FFr130 million in its breach-of-contract lawsuit against Grant. And strengthened by the Berger merger, Marie Brizard & Roger International--and its tenth-generation family leadership--looked forward to maintaining its position as one of France's oldest family-owned, independent companies.
Principal Subsidiaries: Marie Brizard Berger Diffusion (France); Berger S.A.(France); Champagne Philipponnat S.A. (France); Sorevi S.A. (France); S.N. Caves de la Bouvraie S.A.R.L. (France); Danflou Vedrenne S.A. (France); Cognac Gautier S.A. Gemaco (France); Cidou S.A. (France); Marie Brizard Espana S.A. (Spain); Bodega Marques del Puerto (Spain); Caves Altoviso Vinicola do Passadouro LDA (Portugal); Caves Quinta da Corga LDA (Portugal); S.A. Cinoco N.V. (Belgium); Marie Brizard European Development N.V. (Netherlands); Marie Brizard Wines & Spirits USA; Pat Foods Pty Ltd. (Australia); M.B.R.I. Japan.
- Durieux, Isabelle, "Guerre de familles," L'Expansion, October 24, 1994, pp. 78--80.
- "Marie-Brizard: une recette de longevité," L'Expansion, October 1982, pp. 227--29.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 22. St. James Press, 1998.