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$1.9 Million a Pop

Published 8 years ago
By Forbes Africa

Having lived in Nigeria for most of my humble life, I can comfortably say that there is at least one huge ‘all family and friends’ party going on everyday in this country. A couple of hedonistic folks have even suggested that the concept of African celebration was a Nigerian idea, complete with beer, wine, gourds of palm wine (a local brew), jollof rice and spicy chicken.

Consumer behavior such as this often becomes a trend. Very few folks, are therefore, totally surprised that, almost overnight, Nigerians have redefined the essence of celebration, and our affection for the eponymous produce of the Champagne region has become a sub-culture, a puzzling and dynamic social phenomenon with a deepening impact on the cultural and economic ethos of the land.

To comprehend the contemporary culture of champagne consumption in Nigeria, you would have to recognize one simple fact: Nigerians are showy, ambitious, possibly more ambitious for their own pockets.

Anyone who disagrees with this view should simply go grab a magnum of the latest bubbly stuff available. And that would be ‘Taste of Diamonds’ by luxury champagne brand Goût de Diamants.

Designed by UK-based, Nigerian luxury designer Alexander Amosu, this one-off drink for ‘very private’ clients is reputed to be the most expensive champagne in the world; the asking price for one bottle and its liquid content is $1.9 million.

But why would a French vinery approach a Nigerian to help it project its expensive brew to its target markets? The answer is somewhere between personal recognition and social economics: Amosu has a track record of co-creating and helping to launch luxury goods. He once showcased the world’s most expensive suit to high society in Lagos and in London, UK. Secondly, it helps that Amosu identifies with his Nigerian roots. In a place like Nigeria, poverty and affluence could be twin brothers.

The United Nations says 63% of Nigeria’s 160 million people are technically poor, existing on less than $2 a day. The country also has some of the world’s wealthiest folks. For instance, Aliko Dangote and Mike Adenuga, two of Africa’s wealthiest moguls (worth $20 billion and $4.7 billion). Dangote and his ilk on the Forbes rich list can afford bodyguards, bullet-proof cars, private jets, luxury yachts, authentic designer goods, stadium-size parties, little islands, and several cases of ‘Taste of Diamonds’. But will the Dangote’s of Africa spend so much lucre on one bottle of liquid lust? Who knows?

The point here is that a ‘struggling giant’, Africa’s most populous economy, has become the destination of choice for the world’s champagne brands. Already acknowledged as big spenders in the retail zones of Europe, North America and the Middle East, Nigerians at home have now been recognized as one of the fastest adopters of champagne drinks globally.

Adeoye Omotayo of R&B Public Relations Ltd in Lagos observes that the Nigerian environment is, without a doubt, easily part of the global champagne culture.

“Whilst a bit of pocket power may be required to constantly savor the exquisite experience of drinking champagne, one thing that can be said about Nigerians regardless of their socio-economic status is that they are largely appreciative of the fine things in life, one of which is certainly sparkling wine from the best champagne houses of Europe,” he said.

A recent report by Euromonitor, the research firm, identifies the West African nation as having the fastest growing rate of new champagne consumption in the world, second only to France, and ahead of rapidly growing economies like Brazil and China, and established markets such as the USA and Australia.

In 2011, in value terms Nigerians might have gulped as much as $50 million worth of the sparkling French liquor, and in volume terms they allegedly drank more champagne than Mexicans, Russians and South Africans, three nationalities well known for their contributions to global drinking culture. By 2017 champagne consumption in Nigeria is expected to reach the 1.1 million liter mark, competing favorably with annual beer and soft drinks purchases.

“I am not surprised by this piece of news. It is actually not a revelation to me. Nigerians have exquisite tastes, they are always willing to explore new drinks, trust me, I know what I am talking about,” says Roger Chedid, a Lagos-based Lebanese businessman who trades in wines, spirits and champagne. “Nigerians who really drink champagne don’t just take any brand; they always go for the particular brands they like. They are brand loyalists and image conscious.”

Chedid’s liquor store cum mini-bar, in the posh Lagos neighborhood of Ikoyi, reflects the avuncular character of champagne consumers; friendly talk and soft jazzy music often fills the air as patrons stroll in for a cup of cappuccino and friendly company; a few minutes later, they stroll out with their stash, business done. After 14 years of doing business in Nigeria, Chedid’s clientele come from all over the country. Increasingly, customers now order their cases of ‘sparkling wine’ via email and over the phone. Similar establishments are opening shop all over Nigeria’s urban centers.

My expedition into the local champagne ecosystem revealed the top 10 champagne brands consumed by Nigerians, as Moët & Chandon, Don Pérignon, Veuve Clicquot, Lauren Perrier, Nicolas Feuillatte, Louis Roederer, Lanson, Taittinger, Ayala and Ruinart. The cheapest item on this list is about $100, for a pony sized bottle. That would buy you about 100 bottles of pop soda (soft drinks).

“We like to live the life, and our penchant for acquired taste is legendary,” says Ebi Atawodi, an events and sponsorship executive for a Nigerian cellular operator. “Increasingly, our social and private parties are like champagne and wine competitions.”

Omotayo, the PR executive whose firm also represents some of the leading champagne brands in Nigeria, agrees with her.

“Indeed, Nigerians can be somewhat ostentatious, but even champagne, like cars, has its various grades and quality brands will continue to dominate the liquor landscape,” he says.

Champagne cognoscenti believe that technology, education, global hip hop culture, the runaway success of the local music and movie scene, the coming of age of the ‘Facebook and YouTube’ generation and the expansion of the elite middle class have helped to grow the local champagne market. Clearly, the social arithmetic of champagne consumption reflects the ‘aspirational realities’ of the bold, wealthy and the adventurous.

“There are millions of Nigerians who are well traveled and have experienced the best of all worlds,” says Kayode Oguntayo, wine connoisseur, business man and owner of 1662, a ritzy wine bar in Lagos.

He reckons that, despite the waning popularity of a Nigerian music genre, the ‘Highlife Culture’ of enjoyment, has remained with us.

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Related Topics: #Beer, #Champagne, #Culture, #Goût de Diamants, #Nigeria, #September 2013, #Wine.