Celebrating Hennessy @100
Hennessy is 100! A cognac adorned by lovers of fine wine, the Guardian Life speaks with Sebastien Chouen, General Manager, Moët Hennessy Nigeria. In this interview, he gives us an insight into what makes the brand special.
Hennessy has a long history generally and in Nigeria. How does it feel like to be a part of that history?
It’s been very exciting. A 100 years in Nigeria is a fraction of how long Hennessy has existed as a Maison, so it is humbling and a thing of pride to be a part of this key milestone between Hennessy and Nigeria.
Hennessy was shipped to Nigeria 100 years ago. What will you say are some of the defining moments of Hennessy’s 100-year journey in Nigeria?
There are a lot of defining moments for Hennessy in Nigeria, what has been most amazing has been the reception from Nigerians towards Hennessy. Hennessy is arguably the most popular cognac in Nigeria- it is a symbol of the Nigerian Joie de Vivre. Compared to my previous experiences in other African countries, What I found most fascinating upon my arrival in Nigeria is how Hennessy has evolved to become more than just a spirit’s brand. In Nigeria, it is part of the culture and lifestyle and has also a become a symbol of celebration.
Since 2009, the Hennessy Artistry platform has been a key part of Nigeria’s entertainment scene creating exceptional consumer moments through a fusion of music, art, culture, and creative talent.
Second, the brand is synonymous with Hip-Hop globally and locally – Hennessy Artistry VS class as well as the Cyphers have served as platforms of self-expression for established and budding artistes in Nigeria. Recently, we have also collaborated with Nigerian creative talents within the urban arts space with the 2019 limited edition bottle designed by OSA 7 that was commissioned to commemorate Hennessy Artistry’s 10th year in Nigeria.
Why did the brand choose to celebrate this milestone?
We are not just celebrating 100 years in Nigeria, we are celebrating the History, the process, the craftmanship and the people. It is an ode to excellence in Cognac from the bank of Charente river in France to Nigerians and their spirit of conquest. Nigeria is one of the most important markets for Hennessy in the World and is also a cultural hotspot that creates and amplifies trends across the region and the continent. This celebration moment is also an opportunity to say Thank you to our partners and consumers for their support.
How has the response been?
The response has been amazing and very positive. Most people are surprised that Hennessy has been in Nigeria for that long – This shows the foresight that has always guided our strategy as a Maison, looking far beyond the Horizon. An interesting fact about Hennessy is that, though made in Cognac, France, 98% of our cognac are exported and enjoyed all over the world. Hennessy believes that success comes from exploring the world, creating new opportunities, and setting new frontiers, nowhere is this belief more displayed than in Nigeria.
Nigerians have been very embracing of Hennessy. In what ways do you think the brand speaks to the spirit and aspirations of Nigerian people?
All over the world, Nigerians are known to be very hardworking and resilient. In my years of working in Nigeria, I am almost always in awe of the Nigerian spirit. Nigerians never stay down, there is always the need to keep moving and this is the spirit creates that perfect fusion between the Hennessy brand and Nigerians. We live in challenging times and no doubt we face more difficult moments in the future, but Nigerians perfectly embody our values and our tagline that says” Never Stop Never Settle”
The 100th year Anniversary Celebration event was a tribute to the Nigerian joie de vivre, how has Nigerian culture & lifestyle influenced the brand’s approach to business locally?
No matter where we are, no matter who we are with, being at ease in the world makes us singular. Maison’s Hennessy Standard of sophistication balanced by a true sense of openness has ensured that the Hennessy brand is a citizen of the world and has found a home in the hearts of Nigerians.
Nigerians are very warm and welcoming people – and the brand has learnt to adopt a similar approach towards communicating with our consumers across all touchpoints, price points and channels. For us, is more than just about the liquid but also about creating compelling and memorable consumer experience, whether it is driven by Hennessy Very Special, V.S.O.P Privilege or X.O.
It is also important to note how much the Maison has also embraced Nigerians, this we solidified by reflecting it in the creation of a limited edition Hennessy V.S.O.P designed in the Nigeria national colours, while also designing 100 Jeroboam bottles , specially signed by Maurice Hennessy. 5 out of the uniquely numbered bottles were auctions at the event and all proceeds donated to GIVO Solutions, a circular economy company that offers end-end recycling solution.
Can you walk us through your career and how it all shaped you to be the current GM of Moet Hennessy Nigeria?
I began my career in Moet Hennessy as a Marketing and Development trainee in 2005/2006. In 2007, I moved on to become a Junior brand marketing manager in Moet Hennessy Belgium/Luxembourg. In 2008, I worked with trade marketing development team in Moet Hennessy Spain and then for the next two and half years I was a sales representative on Moet Hennessy France before becoming the market manager west and central Africa for 6 years. This was one of the memorable times of my life as I met and married my wife who is Half Lebanese and Ghanaian, we have two kids now. In 2017, I became the General Manager of Moet Hennessy Nigeria.
You have been in Nigeria for four years now. What is your favourite thing about Nigeria?
First Things that come my mind is PEOPLE, I love their energy, creativity, resilience, and their ability to learn. Nigerians are very swift, and I love how proactive they can be and they are also very ambitious people.
I also like the food, especially the spicy suya. I also love the vibrancy of Lagos as a city.
In your opinion what do you think the French and Nigerians have in common?
I think what the French and Nigerians have in common is their love for good food and social moments. Just like the French, Nigerian people love a good time!
What are your three must-have ingredients to create the perfect Hennessy cocktail?
There is no perfect Hennessy cocktail. Mixing and matching Hennessy is the key to creativity. Whether it is enjoyed neat or with ice, our cognac is truly versatile. Its rich aromatic profile makes it the perfect base for cocktails. Cognac cocktails such as the Sazerac, Sidecar or Old Fashion are timeless classics. At Hennessy, we are constantly exploring new ways to enjoy cognac and encourage you to do the same because there is no wrong way to enjoy a Hennessy Cocktail.
Hennessy has been in existence for over 250 years, how does the brand keep innovating?
Hennessy is the leading Cognac Maison in the world and even beyond Cognac has recently been taken the number one premium Spirits Brands, especially in terms of quality of Eaux-de-vie and our savoir faire that fascinates and triggers respect.
Our uniqueness lies in the exceptional know how of Cognac making that has been passed down through 8 generations and 8 master blenders. what is truly fascinating is our capacity to project ourselves into the future which involves planning for eaux-de-vie needed to blend future cognacs and anticipating the future and creating blends to satisfy evolving consumer demand.
In 2017, we celebrated the 250th year for Hennessy VSOP and just Last year, we celebrated 150th years of Hennessy XO, A pioneer that defined a category and with the recent partnership with the NBA, we continue to prove that Hennessy does not rest on its oars when it comes to innovation that creates timeless moments.
What is next for Hennessy in Nigeria?
We will continue to look beyond the horizons in researching for excellence to ensure we are constantly innovating and re-inventing platforms that will create compelling and memorable experiences for our consumers irrespective of their journeys. Also, we will continue our efforts to champion the brands global sustainability agenda in Nigeria. In addition to our partnership with GIVO (a recycling outfit that creates value of plastic waste), we will also invest in preserving biodiversity and soil regeneration to decrease the effects of climate change and support benefits for local communities.
We will regenerate 1250 hectares in the south of the country with the aim of creating agroforestry systems among local producers of cashews that will provide protective cover for their crops, enabling them to diversify their harvests.
We will also continue to support the creative industry in Nigeria via Hennessy Artistry – providing a platform for Nigeria’s wealth of creative talent to showcase themselves to the world!