The topic of sustainability is certainly a hot one within the spirits industry at present despite the ongoing impact of the pandemic. Spirits companies are falling over each other to draw attention to their ambitious targets to reduce their environmental impact as the world continues to fret about extreme weather events, climate action failure, the blight of single-use plastic and tragic biodiversity loss.
Which spirit category can lay a realistic claim to being the most sustainable? Wine and spirits consultant Stephanie Jordan believes French brandy Calvados, a relatively neglected AOC-controlled category with over 500 years of history, richly deserves this title. In 2018, she and her business partner launched Avallen Calvados, placing its eco-credentials at the heart of the brand concept, which takes its name from the old Cornish for ‘apple tree’.
Inside the Cask guest contributor Joe Bates caught up with former Diageo executive Stephanie to find out more about Avallen’s quest to modernise the very traditional Calvados category and champion its sustainable practices.
Inside the Cask: Can you tell us more about how Avallen got started? What are its values and what makes it different from other Calvados brands in the marketplace?
Avallen was founded by Tim Etherington-Judge (also founder of [hospitality health app] Healthy Hospo) and myself (wine & spirits consultant) in 2018 and launched in London on World Bee Day 2018. We created Avallen with sustainability at the very core. After having met at Diageo both working as Global Brand Ambassadors, Tim and I had stayed close friends.
We share the same life principles and values you see. So after one year out of the big corporate, once we had taken the time to digest and get back in touch with our true selves, we starting dreaming up a brand that would positively charge the drinks industry standing tall against our core values and thus we set ourselves the goal of creating the world’s most planet positive spirits.
“Our mission statement is: ‘At Avallen, we are committed to make a spirit that’s not only delicious, approachable, and fun, but to do it whilst having a positive impact on our planet. We will bee-positive in everything we do whilst refusing to compromise on quality of product, brand, and experience”.
What we actually are is an all-natural fresh young and vibrant Calvados made with nothing but apples, water and time.
From a USP perspective, our work goes well beyond our liquid (which is delicious!)— we stand for transparency, working with provenance and block chain technology to show case our supply chain.
Our bottle is unique in that it’s lightweight to reduce our carbon footprint. [We use] recycled apple pulp [for our] labels; we use 0% plastic or harmful dyes. Our brand world goes well beyond Calvados as we never set out to launch one. We researched what the most sustainable raw material is to make spirit from, and the answer is APPLES, and the best apple brandy comes from where? It was all a series of events and decisions that took us to Normandy so as much as we are a Calvados, we straddle the category as we are above all a planet-positive drink that gives back more than it takes!
Inside the Cask: Do you produce Avallen in partnership with a calvados producer or do you handle production yourself at your own distillery?
We are very proud to collaborate with the family-owned Distillery de Coquerel in La Manche, Normandy. Tim and I knew where our skill set lay, focusing on building the brand and our good work to educate the industry and citizens on how to pour with purpose and why it’s so darn important that we consider the environmental impact of the spirit we drink the same as we do with the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the cars we drive.
Teaming up with Coquerel has been a total blessing working with Pierre Martin Neuhaus now the third generation at the helm of Coquerel and investing into local jobs and economy are hugely rewarding to us.
Thanks to Pierre, we as founders now work closely with the Calvados AOC working with all producers ensuring that Avallen be the tide that raises all boats for this amazing category.
Calvados in a nutshell supports biodiversity, uses little water in all stages of the production (no irrigation, only washing of apples and reducing of spirits). The orchards as pesticide free and mosaic habits; the trees sequestrate carbon; the agriculture is regenerative…and the list goes on.
With its distinctive packaging, focus on the environment and cocktails, Avallen is very different to the conservative, traditional image projected by other producers. What kind of response have you had from the drinks trade since launching? Is Calvados ready to show a new, more contemporary image?
Great question! So, the short version is we have been overwhelmed with all the positive feedback (in a good way). The trade loves the liquid, the pack and above all our values.
It’s the first time in a long time (if not ever in the new generation of bartenders) that any one has talked to them about Calvados, on top of which we are seen to be leading the sustainability conversation so collaborate with lots of great drinks brands (and beyond) doing awesome things via our POSITIVELY CHARGED SERIES (you can download all reports on our website or watch them back on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCPNvt41750NuM-4adRAE9Ow).
In terms of if Calvados is ready, I think you will see from the work of the IDAC [the Interprofession des Appelations Cidracoles] the answer is YES. Their latest comms are fresh vibrant and very much in the 21st Century. There has been some great things happening with the independent producers (innovative casks finishes, modernized communications, etc).
Calvados is what Scotch was in the 80s…..so it’s about time they dust off those bottles and they have every right to given how simply beautiful the agriculture and production methods are…arguably, Calvados is hands down the most sustainably spirits category: low-water usage, natural fermentations, pesticide-free, biodiverse, sequestration of apple trees, mosaic habitat, etc. etc.
Inside the Cask: What sort of success have you had in growing your distribution since launching? Am I right in thinking the UK is the main target market for the brand? Do you have distribution in other territories too?
Up until now our focus market has indeed been the UK, thanks to an incredible partnership with our distributor Mangrove, their M.D. Nick Gillet also sits on our advisory board. We did, however, launch with distribution in the Nordics, Ireland and the Netherlands from day one and have since opened Australia and Spain.
In 2021, we will be launching in France—hopefully convincing the French to drink what they make—and looking to Canada and other markets of interest such Italy and Germany, etc., in order to gain momentum ahead of considering a 2022 launch in a specific US market.
Inside the Cask: How have you had to change your strategy for Avallen because of the COVID pandemic? Is the online and off trade more of a focus now for instance?
We obviously took a hit with our forecast for 2020 having some really juicy on-trade listings lined up which unfortunately have not quite seen the light of day. We were, however, fortunate enough to have some key online listings (include UK’s fast growing supermarket Ocado) which enable us to keep the wheels turning. Our response to COVID has been to fund the business with a successful equity crowdfunding campaign last summer raising £250k to fuel the growth over the next 18 months.
Our focus will be establishing the brand positioning and building brand awareness alongside starting our journey to B-Corp Certification whilst driving a content series connecting back to e-commerce.
We just completed our lifecycle carbon analysis and have some very exciting results to share at the start of this year! We however of course LOVE THE ON TRADE and hope to support in any way possible our hospitality family.
Inside the Cask: Finally, what sort of traction have you had from some of your marketing ideas such as World Bee Day (May 20th) and World Calvados Day (October 20th)? Were these ideas a success and will you repeat them this year?
So, these ideas serve two different purposes: World Calvados Day – is about supporting the category and helping the apple pie grow for all of us, such as teaming up with [drinks site] Difford’s Guide.
World Bee Day – is about spreading Avallen’s values to the world and talking about purpose, planet positivity and what matters to us on days that no other drinks brand is communicating. It’s true to us and allows for some great collaborations such as teaming up with [green gardening retailer] Kabloom to create the Avallen Bee Boms—wildflower seed-packed biodegradable grenades.