MMI is said to be one of the largest distributors of wines to travel retail in the Middle East. To which locations do you supply?
Maritime & Mercantile International (MMI) is a subsidiary of The Emirates Group. Long established as a successful business in the Gulf region, MMI is the number one alcohol distributor in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Oman, with significant duty free experience with Dubai Duty Free, Qatar Duty Free and as an operator of Duty Free Dubai Ports.
Which outlets do you operate in the Middle East?
Our flagship duty free operation, Le Clos — Finest Wines and Luxury Spirits, is based in Terminal 3 of Dubai International Airport as well as in the Emirates First Class Lounge of the same terminal. It opened in October 2008 and offers customers the opportunity to buy in-store, via the website or phone to collect on departure, or receive in the arrivals hall when arriving into Dubai via our concierge service. The store’s focus is to create a tranquil environment for wine and spirit lovers, where they can indulge their passion, seek expert advice from the multilingual and industry-qualified team and choose from a competitively priced range rich in breadth and depth.
How do wines stack up against spirits in terms of consumption and popularity in the Middle East?
At Le Clos, spirits drive approximately 25 per cent of revenue, particularly focused on very rare whisky and cognac, while wines represent 75 per cent of the business. In a recent collaboration with Macallan, we sold our entire allocation of their 60-year-old Lalique series single malt. At $21,000 per bottle, it demonstrates the trust placed in the business by the consumer.
Which are your bestselling products?
Our strength in buying Bordeaux is reflected in our range. The consumer is confident with the provenance we offer as well as our keen pricing. The top Bordeaux estates account for a high percentage of revenue, with Chateau Lafite being number one in revenue generation. We sell highly sought-after 1982 1st Growth Clarets at approximately one per week — an enviable quantity in travel retail or [for] traditional European wine merchants.
What are the latest trends you see forming in the wine category in travel retail?
Bordeaux will continue to take the lead due to its universal appeal; however, we have taken a proactive approach with our Burgundy category, with allocations of wines from Domaine Romanee Conti to tie in with increasing demand from Asia. Top-quality wines from Spain and Italy such as Vega Sicilia and Sassicaia also appeal to the international wine cognoscenti.
What is the typical profile of the duty free wine consumer in the Middle East in terms of age, price point and product preferences?
We don’t really have a typical consumer. Dubai Airport is visited by a huge array of nationalities covering pretty much every demographic. We can say our average sale is in excess of $300 and our clients are both domestically and internationally based. We offer an unparalleled service to those who enjoy the finer things in life with the added benefit of no tax or duty.
Who are your competitors in this region and what sets you apart from them?
Le Clos is a unique proposition that filled a void in travel retail and as such has no real direct competitor. Le Clos won ‘World’s Best Wine Store’ from a leading publiation and Travel Retail Operator of the Year from Drinks International in its first two years of operations, and in 2011, it was voted World’s Best Wine Store within the industry, beating seasoned competitors worldwide. The business has the ability to connect to the consumer rather than being a faceless transaction, which is commonplace in travel retail. Many customers who are based in Dubai travel on a twice-a-week basis and over time, a real rapport has been built between them and the team. It’s a 16-member team holding Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) qualifications and between them can speak to customers in 17 languages meaning that communication is very strong. We also have much of the website available in Mandarin and customers can ask language and wine specialists a question through our personal advisor section of the website.
What do your marketing efforts entail?
Everything we do is personalised as we try to echo the in-store experience. During 2011, we have held dinners across China for some of our best customers as a thank you gesture. During these events, we served wines from Lafite, Cheval Blanc and d’Yquem, as it’s important that we really look after our customers. We also have very close relationships with our suppliers and regularly run dinner events with the winemaker in attendance. As part of the Emirates Group, we also look for internal opportunities; customers can now use their Skywards miles to redeem against products through the Emirates High Street website.
What are your sales forecasts for 2012?
The business is still in relative infancy and, therefore, we expect significant double-digit growth in 2012. Business has more than doubled in the last three years, and last year we posted revenues up by nearly a third.
Do you have any new launches/promotions planned for the year?
The business is dynamic and has the ability to secure parcels of stock to keep the customer base excited and the range fresh. We also offer customers the opportunity to buy wine as futures through the En Primeur system and are currently focused on the Bordeaux 2011 vintage. We use twitter to keep the clientele up-to-date and often collaborate with suppliers to feature their products as part of a bespoke window display, with recent examples including Macallan and Chivas. We are committed to expanding the operation footprint and work closely with Dubai Airport authority to advance any opportunities that present themselves.
What are your expansion plans for the future?
The model is proven and there is no reason why it isn’t exportable to other markets, both in duty free and duty paid markets. We enjoy a close working relationship with both Emirates and Dubai Airport, and as part of the premiumisation goal held by all, we will play an active part in any developments.MMI’s footprint has expanded considerably and based on the overall strategy, Le Clos will continue to be positioned at the forefront of travel retail, setting the benchmark for the industry and retaining its status as the number one wine and spirits travel retail, setting the benchmark for the industry and retaining its status as the number one wine and spirits travel retail operator.