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FRANCE: Pernod Ricard eyeing high-end absinthe push

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Pernod Ricard is seeking to breathe new life into absinthe by targeting its own namesake brand of the controversial spirit at the arts and fashion world.  

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Absinthe's associaton with hallunications and the supposed madness of high-profile figures, such as artist Vincent Van Gogh, has made it the target of legislation. This year, however, France's Senate voted to lift a ban on absinthe that has lasted 100 years.

Pernod Ricard detects renewed potential in the spirit, which is typically around 68% abv, according to a new report published jointly this week by just-drinks and The IWSR. Pernod absinthe currently sells around 15,000 cases annually worldwide. By contrast, Absolut vodka sells around 11m cases.  

But, the small base is not putting the firm off, according to the international director for Pernod absinthe, Jean-François Collobert. Quoted in the report, he said: "Since the restrictions were lifted in France in 2011 we decided to accelerate the redevelopment of our absinthe brand both in terms of the product itself, but also in terms of geographic expansion. We are currently in some 20 markets." 

Collobert said that he sees Pernod absinthe remaining a super-premium product, perhaps as a step up from the Pernod and Ricard anis drinks. "I think we can easily double the volumes each year," he said. "If this category is well-managed by the main players, then it could one day become a major category."

The French group sees particular potential among consumers in the arts and fashion worlds. Advertising investment will be directed towards digital marketing, the firm said.  

Globally, absinthe as category has stuttered in the past couple of years. This year, global volumes are expected to hit 143,000 nine-litre cases, up by just 0.7% on last year and down by 36% from a spike in the market in 2008. By 2016, cases sales are forecast to reach 199,000, according to the just-drinks/IWSR report.

While producers strive to make their absinthe as authentic as possible, regulations have tapered the use of the key herb artemisia absinthium, also called wormwood. When distilled, this produces a chemical named thujone, which is thought to be the source of absinthe's hallucinogenic properties.

In the European Union, US, Australia and New Zealand, thujone can only be present at ten parts per million. Levels are believed to have been much higher than this in 19th Century France, when absinthe was at its most popular.


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