Drinks Distribution in France – Fíor Uisce. The Beginning

It’s been a learning experience over the last 12 months since we launched Fíor Uisce in Paris with our first distributor in June 2012.  Fíor Uisce is a premium glass bottled water produced at source in Mayo and sold mainly in 5 star type establishments in Ireland, such as the K-Club, Ashford Castle and the Four Seasons in Ballsbridge. We met with the owners late in 2011 and immediately wanted to take it to France. Crazy perhaps like taking ‘Coals to Newcastle’, but there were a number of good reasons:

▪       The zero nitrates content and the pure source 100 meters underground make this a genuine premium water. Premium waters are sold at a premium and in France are not as common as you might expect. In fact the French public are so picky about everything they consume that they already have abandoned many of their own waters that are now produced in the millions of litres. They rightfully suspect that when you extract those sorts of volumes that somewhere along the line quality will get compromised. There have been a number of damming reports in recent years naming well known brands

▪       Novelty is another important factor and while the big brands spend vast sums in advertising to create brand loyalty there is a public in France in the premium end who are interested in discovering something new from abroad. Fíor Uisce is beautifully presented in a very distinctive way similar to other top end waters such as St. Géron and Wattwiller.

▪       There is a progressive change in France that is happening slowly, an opening up to the rest of the world especially the English speaking world. This is slow but happening nonetheless and you see more non-French foods in the supermarkets. There is very little if any labelled Irish food products in French supermarkets; a massive untapped opportunity to capitalise on the green pure organic and friendly image.

Having contacted my database of friends and ex colleagues from years of working in France I teamed up with one who introduced me to a friend of his who had worked in the drinks business for a number of years. This led to an introduction to an independent drinks distributor north of Paris who turned out to be quite interested in coming on board.

If you think Ireland is all about who you know well welcome to the land of the friend’s network and the otherwise closed doors. For the French it’s about trust and they are so mistrusting of each other that an introduction from a friend or contact means everything. You simply can’t get started otherwise!

But there are no free lunches and our first distributer drove a hard bargain to help us launch knowing that we did not have much of a marketing budget and that we needed to get a foothold in Paris. A year on we have 2 other distributors for Paris and 1 in Bordeaux and I suspect we will drop our first distributor later this year because he simply isn’t performing. Luckily we broadened our base and established elsewhere.

To be continued…

Fíor Uisce is marketed as www.fior.fr in France.

John Harney