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Food and wine: The French target India

December 16, 2005 02:07 IST

Sopexa, the French national board for promotion of food and wine exports, is eyeing the Indian market.

Wherever we go people ask, so what are you selling?" the Sopexa team of president Dominique Chardon, regional director south-east Asia Bertrand Girard, and India representative Rajeev Singhal could be excused for using the expressive Gaelic shrug.

No, they are not selling anything. Yes, they are "promoting" French wine and cheese, in fact, anything edible or drinkable made in France. "If we are selling something, it would have to be the label French," the team says.

Over the last two years, Sopexa has been training its sights on the Indian market "seriously", showcasing products, putting up stalls at food and wine shows and so forth, albeit sporadically.

While recognition in India is slow, in the coming year the board hopes to rev things up with more such events as well as pop entertainment such as aperitif evenings and chef competitions in conjunction with leading hotels and restaurants.

After all, India constitutes one of the board's most promising markets even if the actual volumes are tiny as yet.

"Promoting" French wine can be tricky. For one, the product is accused of being deliberately mysterious. In India, there's still some awe that a French label inspires — even if you are not drinking the best of Bordeaux but some over-priced plonk.

But faced with competition from New World wines, French wine has been losing its market share in the traditional wine-drinking world. A hunt for newer markets is thus an important activity and Asia has become a big-stakes playground.

Here, Japan leads with the value of French wine imported pegged at 400 million Euros. Compared to this, the value of French wine in India is just 2 million Euros, behind Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam. But like everyone else, Sopexa too has realised that "India and China are going to be the key".

Which is why Chardon himself has chosen to visit the country "in complete humility, to learn", he says. There are attempts to align the "complexities" of the two cultures, French and Indian, as opposed to the modern world of homogenisation and assembly-line productions; the nouveau world, as opposed to ancient civilisations that cannot understand concepts such as terroir.

What's that, did you say? You could join a Sopexa training session to find out. In the meanwhile, Chardon's team is hard at work to stress that there is French wine for every taste, occasion and budget— not to mention dish because "Indian cuisine is so diverse".

And if you still refuse to believe that wine goes with spicy mutton curry, you could always sip an aperitif. Just make sure that you get the country of origin right.

Anoothi Vishal in New Delhi