While the Cognac and brandy sector was hit by the pandemic, the rise of digital could be key to its recovery in the years ahead. We present the brands worth keeping an eye on in the next 12 months.

After five consecutive years of growth that saw 14 million nine‐litre cases of Cognac sold in 2019, the category is expected to decline in 2020 due to the impact of the pandemic. According to figures from Euromonitor International, sales will drop to 12.4m nine‐litre cases in 2020, and figures are predicted to remain below 2018 levels over the coming year.

According to trade body the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC), the year’s sales were affected by the closure of distilleries as a result of the pandemic, lockdown measures worldwide and “strategic shipment choices in 2019”, which resulted in increased exports last year “in fear of” additional taxes threatened by the US.

“The Cognac category is confident in its capacity to bounce back quickly at the end of this crisis,” says Raphaël Delpech, general director of the BNIC. “Our category is confident in the future, thanks to encouraging signs from China and Asia, the good figures of our VS quality, which is resisting [declines] in the US market, as well as the solidity of our economic model.”

Delpech notes 2020 has had positives for Cognac. Work to strengthen production capacity by allowing winegrowers to expand their vineyards continued, and the past 12 months saw producers harvest the first varieties of resistant vines as part of an ongoing research programme.

Delpech explains: “The long‐term objective of this approach is to reduce phytosanitary treatments while contributing to adaptation to climate change.”

While the BNIC focuses on innovations that could safeguard the future of Cognac production, independent house Camus also found consumers were eager to explore products that met demand for “the science of tradition”, such as its ocean‐matured Camus Caribbean Expedition.

Cyril Camus, president of the French producer, says: “With these innovative products we are pushing the boundaries of experimental research around the intensity of aromas forward.”

The expression proved popular on direct‐to‐consumer platforms, which Camus says will be key to the growth and recovery of the sector. He adds: “Digital platforms and social commerce will play a key role at any level, even reinforcing touchpoints in duty free with click‐and‐collect initiatives, for example.”

There appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel, with restrictions easing now. As a result, Delpech says the level of shipments in October 2020 is “the same, even slightly higher compared with the level we had in October last year. We hope to see fully recovered activity within the next two years.”

For brandy, the challenges of 2020 resulted in declining sales to 131m nine‐litre cases. But the sector also saw investments from major players, including Sazerac’s purchase of Paul Masson Brandy and Constellation Brands’ acquisition of Copper & Kings.

Click through the following pages to see which brands we believe are ones to watch in the year ahead.