By Shakeh Avoyan
The French-owned Yerevan Brandy Company (YBC), Armenia’s largest spirits distillery, announced on Friday a further increase in the sales of its main product during the first five months of this year.
The company said it has supplied almost 1.65 million liters of Armenian brandy to distributors from January through the end of May, 13 percent up from the same period last year. About 94 percent of it was exported abroad, with Russia remaining the principal market for the now expensive alcoholic drink renowned across the former Soviet Union.
The reported increase in sales follows a pattern of steady growth since the company’s $30 million takeover in 1998 by the French group Pernod Ricard, one of the world’s biggest alcohol producers. YBC’s annual sales have quadrupled since 1999, hitting 4 million liters and a turnover of $31.4 million in 2003.
The rapid expansion has led the company’s top executives to raise the alarm over possible shortages of grapes in Armenia in the coming days. YBC had trouble meeting its 2003 target for wholesale grape purchases following a record-low harvest that hit hard the country’s wine-growers. It had to expand the geography of its traditional suppliers and almost double the purchasing price to stockpile some 13,500 metric tons of the fruit.
YBC intends to increase the purchases to 20,000 tons this year. Its outgoing chairman Pierre Larretche, who has repeatedly called for the expansion of Armenian vineyards, said the limited grape supply is forcing his firm to put greater emphasis on its most expensive cognac brands. They already account for more than a third of the overall brandy sales.
The figures were released at a farewell news conference which Larretche held after more than five years of work in Armenia. “This has been the nicest experience in my life,” he said. “I have benefited from every second spent in Armenia. I have been in difficult, normal and easy situations. All of them have been very important to me.”
Larretche’s successor, Herve Caroff, worked as finance director of Pernod Ricard’s Russia division before taking up the job. He assured reporters that Armenian brandy will maintain a unique taste which makes it slightly different from its French analogue. “The cognac will not become French just because there are two or three Frenchmen in the management,” he said. “This is something which we really don’t want.”
(Photolur photo: Larretche, left, and Caroff drinking a toast with Armenian brandy.)