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Thursday May 18, 2006

Living with a famous name


EDOUARD Cointreau has a surname that’s linked to an orange liquor, Cointreau. Not many people connect him to the family who made this world famous liquor brand. But indeed, he comes from this family. 

He finds it amusing that people are always “teaching” him about his name, as if he’s an outsider to the Cointreau family. 

Edouard Cointreau: ‘I drink a lot of Cognac and my favourite Cognac is Frapin.’
He quips: “When I meet people, the first and second questions would be, ‘Oh, do you know your name is the name of a drink? In the United States, I have people who say, ‘Oh, there’s a French family who has this name. Do you know it’s a French name? 

“I speak good English and they didn’t think I was French. So people teach me sometimes that I belong to the Cointreau family. They cannot relate me to the drink (Cointreau) most of the time.” 

When he was seven, he realised what the Cointreau name could do. 

“When I walked into the classroom, the children started singing the Cointreau advertising song frequently played on the radio. It was embarrassing,” he says. 

Edouard, 57, belongs to the fifth generation of the Cointreau family. As the firstborn, he inherits the same first name, like his father and all the firstborn sons in the family. He too keeps this family tradition alive – so you can easily guess his only son’s name. 

Cointreau has been a worldwide legend since its creation in 1849. Today, it is sold in more than 200 countries. Thirteen million bottles are sold every year – that’s over 350 million glasses of Cointreau!  

French confectioner Adolphe Cointreau and his brother, Edouard-Jean, created a brand new spirit from the fruits of the area in 1849. Immediate success led to the founding of the Cointreau distillery in Angers, France. 

Edouard-Jean’s son, Edouard, noticed that traditional opaque liqueurs in elaborate bottles were losing favour with the public. He created a new crystal-clear liquor based on a blend of sweet and bitter orange peel. 

As a marketing ploy, Cointreau was packed in a square bottle with rounded corners. The warm amber-coloured bottle with its rounded shoulders and red ribbon has remained virtually unchanged for 150 years.  

“The Cointreau’s square bottle was very unusual at the time and the brand relaunched itself. The drink was invented in 1870s by my great-grandfather, the son of the founder,” says Edouard in an exclusive interview with StarTwo.  

He was recently in Malaysia to announce the forthcoming Gourmand World Media Awards 2005 in Kuala Lumpur from May 17-21. He is president/founder of the Awards, the “Oscars” of food and wine books and television shows, which he created in 1995. 

When his great-grandfather launched the liquor, 10% of the sales turnover was spent in advertising and marketing, which was a totally new thing to do. 

Waxing lyrical that the drink is “very good and you will like it if you taste it”, he says that Cointreau has been pushed by a huge investment from the very beginning. 

Guess what’s his favourite drink? 

Surprising, he didn’t mention Cointreau first. 

“I drink a lot of Cognac and my favourite Cognac is Frapin (pronounced Frapa) and this is a high-level brand which comes from 300ha of vineyards and one of the few estate-bottled Cognac.” 

When he drinks Cognac, he says: “You can be happy with just one glass because the drink has such a powerful smell. It’s like drinking poetry. It’s very beautiful.”  

Of course, he guzzles lots of Cointreau, too. 

“I like it best with ice,” he says. 

In the past, over 800 imitations have tried to emulate Cointreau’s famous bottle, the Cointreau logo or even the liqueur itself but failed. He considers such imitation attempts not a threat but “a recognition of the success of the brand and it’s to be expected because when you’re successful, people will copy you.” 

His grandfather gave him his first taste of Cointreau when he was a baby. 

“There is a photo of me having a drop of it when I was six months old,” he recalls with a chuckle. 

Since he was born into the Cointreau family, he’s always “involved” in the business. He was eight years old when he “joined” the company without knowing it. 

“People talk to you all the time. You start learning about the business,” he says.  

“The family takes you to dinners with the agents and you learn about the distributors. You do a lot of things without being paid and it’s a full-time job. It never stops. That’s true in many family businesses.” 

Many times, he feels compelled to tell people about the drink. “It can be at night at a restaurant where you see people drinking Cointreau or somebody wants to use it to cook. You tell them how to do it better and even offer how to make cocktails.” 

In the 1930s and 1950s, the company had agreements with Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart and the Prince of Monaco to promote Cointreau.  

Some of the famous cocktails made with Cointreau included Sidecar, an old cocktail of the 1930s. Humphrey Bogart drank lots of it. 

“In a funny gangster movie set in Chicago, each time Sinatra and his friend poured Cointreau for someone, it means that they are going to kill him.”  

Does this not put the liqueur in a bad light? He laughingly says: “Nah. It’s the last nice thing this person has in his life. Everything has its positive side.” 

Cointreau makes up 10% of the production of the factory. About 13 million bottles are produced each year and the figures are rising, driven by Asian and American markets.  

The drink was very successful from the start and became the leader in France within three years, thanks to advertising. Then the family went international. During his great-grandfather’s time, the drink was sold in 90 countries. 

Edouard’s father took over the reins in 1947 and launched the brand around the world. He was general manager of Remy Martin Cognac and a genius in marketing. 

So the expansion of two brands – Cointreau and Remy Martin Cognac – went in parallel (around the world) even though they were by two different families joined together by his father and mother’s marriage.  

The companies merged to become Remy Cointreau in1990 and Dominique Heriard, Edouard’s first cousin (the daughter of his mother’s sister), was made president. 

Strangely Edouard never got directly involved in the company. He helped indirectly to promote the brand but otherwise is only a company shareholder. For example, in 1973 when he was a student, he helped his family launch a new product, a cranberry-based Cointreau, in the United States.  

From the start, he was not interested in running the familybusiness. 

“There are lots of worries and responsibilities when you run a big company. I like to be more independent. I think I probably have more fun in life,” he says. 

Anyhow, his father allowed all his seven children – three sons and four daughters – to do whatever they wished as long as they did it well. 

Edouard has a Master’s degree in management from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States.  

Based in Madrid, he is into the publishing of food- and wine-related books. The biggest part of his business is promoting events linked to food and wine. 

His latest book, Gourmand Yearbook 2006, will be out during the Awards event. His son helped him put the 400-odd-paged book together. This book provides information about cookbook trends and the best cookbooks in different countries. 

“I publish books that other publishers don’t want to publish. I publish books I believe in – unusual books, difficult books or reference books,” he says, adding that his maternal grandfather and mother had somewhat influenced his career choice. 

“Publishing a book is like having a baby. It’s a very painful process,” he says. 

“Books are like babies. You never know how they’ll do. Some books are published and everybody forgets about them. Some books are very successful and get reprinted. Some books can affect people’s lives. 

“What I’m doing at the Awards is to try and help new authors, give them recognition, help them live better and sell more books. I have helped hundreds of authors get known worldwide and some have told me that their lives have been changed.” 

He came across a fine dining book, From the Ambassador’s Table by Margaret Dickinson. He later gave her a Gourmand World Media Award for her book. The author and her husband, a former ambassador, had retired in Canada.  

After the Award, a string of events took place that changed Dickinson’s life. Now she is famous in Canada and has a career in television. 

Edouard has been doing the Awards for 11 years. When he first started, his “challenge” was “to get cookbooks respected”. 

At the time, the publishing business (particularly for cookbooks) was not too respectable. Nowadays, the publication of cookbooks has been increasing by 10% a year and make a very profitable business. 

As he muses on authors signing their books at launches, he can’t help but laugh at the strange requests he gets for being a member of the Cointreau family. 

He says: “I get strange requests to sign Cointreau bottles ...”  

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