CAUDALIE: BUILDING SKIN CARE BUSINESS WITH THE POWER OF GRAPES

Byline: Brid Costello / Holly Haber

PARIS — French skin care firm Caudalie is harvesting the fruit of seeds sown over the past five years and is plowing ahead with ambitious expansion plans.
The development of Caudalie’s distribution comes on the back of encouraging results thus far. According to Mathilde Thomas, vice president of Caudalie, volume for 2000 showed a 50 percent increase over the previous year. She added that the company aims to maintain that level of growth for 2001. On a recent visit to Dallas, co-founder Bertrand Thomas said the firm’s sales were about $10 million last year and that he expects them to double this year.
The family-owned firm, which bases its skin care cures on grape and grapevine extracts, is expanding distribution from an existing 24 countries to include Japan, Italy, Belgium and Germany in 2001. Although its deepest emphasis is now in France — where 2,000 pharmacies carry it in addition to the department stores Printemps, Bon Marche and Galleries Lafayette — plans also include the development of existing markets with a specific emphasis being placed on the U.S.
“In the U.S., we want to build on the business we started there last year,” said Thomas. “We are doing well [there] and we believe in that market.”
Caudalie products are now available in close to 70 doors in the U.S., including Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys New York and Sephora, and according to Alice Thomas, brand manager for Caudalie, distribution could increase by up to 15 doors in 2001. The U.S. market now accounts for 5 to 6 percent of Caudalie’s volume, but Alice Thomas estimates that by the end of 2001 this will increase to 20 percent.
“We like to take the time to get installed,” she noted. “It’s not easy to launch a small French brand — we prefer to have few doors, but [doors] that work well.”
Mathilde Thomas added that Caudalie will use a similar marketing strategy in the U.S. to that used in Europe, where the U.K. and France are among the company’s most successful markets.
“We are building the brand as we built it in France,” she said. “We are starting small, but in key places so as to have a lot of buzz surrounding the products without doing advertising.”
Alice Thomas said that future expansion plans will also include smaller-scale retailers. “Small stores that don’t carry direct competition will help Caudalie to progress,” she said. “Already there are stores that dream of having Caudalie who send us faxes with requests to carry our products.”
So far, Caudalie’s word-of-mouth advertising strategy seems to be working. According to Alice Thomas, when news spread about the Caudalie “wine spa” at Chateau Smith Haute-Lafitte in Bordeaux, the U.S. media were intrigued — news channels purportedly vied to give the spa coverage, while People magazine ran a four-page ad spread about the brand. The wine spa has now been open 18 months, and the Thomases are adding 20 rooms to the 29-room hotel, as well as five treatment rooms for a total of 20.
Mathilde Thomas added that some customers are willing to make the trans-Atlantic trip specifically to visit the Bordeaux spa, where 60 percent of the spa’s clients are American. However, she plans to make the process more convenient with the opening of a third spa in California planned for next year. “American spas are different to French spas and I think they are waiting for a Vinotherapy one,” she explained. Caudalie also runs the well-being center in Paris’s Hotel Meurice.
While headquarters are in Paris, most research is done at the University of Bordeaux. And naturally, the name Caudalie comes from a vintner’s term: It is the unit measure for the length of time the flavor of a wine lingers in the mouth. The more caudalies, the better the wine.
The Caudalie range is comprised of 25 products ranging in price, in France, from $5 for a 100-ml. Eau de Raisin spray to $37 for a 250-ml. bottle of Huile Corps. In the U.S., the line is managed by Lantz-A-Lot International, which has offices in Dallas, Palm Beach, Fla., and Los Angeles. Caudalie’s U.S. bestsellers are C-80 Grape-seed Cream for $56 and Grape-seed Eye Contour Cream for $43.
According to Alice Thomas, Caudalie’s U.S. client base is older than that of Europe, where the line has a more exclusive positioning. She said that the age of the target client in Neiman Marcus is 35 to 45, while Sephora caters to the 25 to 30-year-old client.
Caudalie is also exploring the world of e-commerce. While the brand’s products are covered by a selective distribution contract — the brand can only be carried in stores staffed by a pharmacist — they are available online. Caudalie products are sold on the company’s own site and that of French supermarket chain Carrefour. Sephora.com also carries the line in the U.S.
Mathilde Thomas said that online customers are often clients who have moved and are no longer able to buy from a click-and-mortar store. She added that Caudalie has been careful to restrict its online presence. “We refused the smaller sites that have now closed down, we chose click-and-mortar stores from the beginning,” she said.