23/12/2021 – Food / Fauchon / Luxury / Delicatessen / France
FAUCHON: Where French elegance meets innovation
As Paris-headquartered luxury food and delicatessen business Fauchon celebrates its 135th anniversary, Food & Beverage Networker catches up with CEO Mr Samy Vischel to learn how the luxury French gastronomy brand has weathered the pandemic and emerged as a stronger, wiser and more multi-faceted player – with five-star hotels, education and e-commerce amongst its newer avenues of growth.
It’s been just over a year since Food & Beverage Networker magazine last spoke with you (in July 2020), and the world changed over that period. How has Fauchon faired since then?
Samy Vischel: “Last year was quite hectic in terms of new openings. We’ve recently launched a number of new shops, including our second shop in Mexico, and a fantastic new outlet in Qatar, as well as another opening in Montparnesse, Paris. So, there’s certainly a lot going on: within a very short period of time we’ve effectively opened around 10 outlets – from cafés, to restaurants and retail shops. There are also plenty of further projects in the pipeline when it comes to Fauchon hotels, as well as our upcoming gastronomy school in Rouen Rive Gauche, of course. We have already commenced construction – we expect the school to be an amazing addition and I’m so excited about how it’s progressing.
“We opened a café in Dubai very recently, which I visited a few weeks’ back. It’s a fantastic new opening in the Mall of the Emirates – one of Dubai’s best malls, close to the movie theatre and close to other famous restaurants too. This prominent, prestigious location provides great visibility for our brand, with the café offering breakfast, lunch and dinner, and of course afternoon tea and pastries, while at the retail shop you can purchase chocolates, tea, jam, biscuits and more. At 3,000 square feet, the Dubai café is quite a large outlet, with around 80 seats, and offering all of our signature dishes. One of these is ‘Riso pasta’, cooked like risotto, and used in various recipes – one with Gruyere cheese, another with lobster, and another with mushroom. It’s really a special dish and guests are loving it. We started the dish when we opened our café and hotel. As it’s made from pasta, the dish is lighter, yet it boasts great texture and taste, and could be considered a comfort food – the kind that tastes so good you’ll want to lick your plate! It’s also a dish that we proposed during the recently held ‘Taste of Paris’ – a big event featuring most of the top chefs in France. We presented three signature dishes at the event, as well as a few crazy desserts, including sweet gnocchi with vanilla and chocolate, which was a really interesting expression.
“Elsewhere, a few months ago we also had our new opening in Nice in the South of France – a beautiful restaurant, as well as a boutique and winery. What is interesting with this new place is that we really tried to take a few signature dishes from the South of France culture. Such plates included Pan Bagnat (an olive, vegetable, tuna and egg sandwich), and of course we could not open in Nice without having the famous Salad Niçoise – presented with a Fauchon twist and elegance, of course. We see it as very important to adapt to the local culture – whether we’re opening in Nice or Dubai or Mexico. While around 70 per cent of our menu will be the same, for the remaining 30 per cent we try to capture that local culture through the ingredients we use, the dishes we create, or those signature meals from the region. We see such local adaptation as important and, indeed, key to our success.”
We’ve therefore been very busy. Of course, like other businesses we’ve also experienced challenges relating to the pandemic – but things are starting to move swiftly again now. I’ve recently been out in Mexico and Dubai to see our new projects, for example. So, we feel that things are opening up, although not necessarily as before – the world has undoubtedly changed, although today there is a feeling that everyone wants to move and they want to move fast, to make up for lost time, including when it comes to investment. Typically, when we discuss a new project, it would normally be a four-, five-, even six-month discussion – now it’s more likely to be within a month. This is something of a challenge – albeit a welcome one – for our relatively small team: in Paris, we have around 40 people in the office, so handling the opening of around 10 new shops like this over just four or five months is tough. That said, it’s undoubtedly a positive, because for a stretch of time it was very challenging for us – but finally we can now breathe again.”
Could you please describe your offer in the Japanese market, and how FAUCHON L’Hôtel Kyoto has performed over its first six months of operation?
Samy Vischel: “FAUCHON L’Hôtel Kyoto opened in March of this year – amidst the pandemic – and we still see that Japan remains quite deep in terms of Covid restrictions. It’s a project that we worked on for nearly three years, and not being able to see how it is progressing in person is really frustrating. Nonetheless, January 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of Fauchon’s presence in Japan, and we’re planning huge celebrations to commemorate this milestone. There are not a lot of French gastronomy brands that can claim to have been present in that discerning market for half a century, so we are extremely proud. Japanese gastronomy and culture are really top-notch, with an unerring focus on precise execution and achieving perfection. It’s an amazing country with amazing people that are completely different from us in many ways, but they are such a pleasure to work with. It takes a lot of time – everything must be extremely clean and neat, and 100-per-cent prior to opening, but when you reach this level, and sustain it for 50 years… well, that speaks volumes for the brand. I was not even born when Fauchon first established its presence in Japan! So, we are still there today, and now offer a five-star hotel – one of the leading hotels in the world.
“Due to the pandemic, we are currently at around 20 per cent occupancy at FAUCHON L’Hôtel Kyoto, which is obviously very low. However, our restaurant, our hospitality, our bar and our shop are doing extremely well – we’re typically fully booked a month in advance. Of course, such bookings comprise only Japanese customers at present, although the hotel has undoubtedly become a real gastronomic destination offering something fairly unique given that there are very few French restaurants there within a five-star hotel. With the restaurant located on the 10th floor, you also have a truly stunning view looking out onto a mountain. Our Grand Café features the highest range of food and beverage products – we like to play with ingredients like matcha, yuzu and spices. It is quite important also to incorporate a few local dishes that are adapted by Fauchon with a few innovative twists – a concept in keeping with all of our restaurants.
“In Japan, when you receive your plate, everything must be just perfect – and it’s a pleasure to work with Japanese chefs, as they understand this and absolutely get it first time. You could go back 20 years later and they would still be doing it exactly as specified. That sensibility is really unique in the world. So, we’re hopeful that the country will open up soon to foreign travellers and tourists, in order to boost our hotel’s occupancy rate to the standard 80 per cent or higher that Fauchon typically achieves elsewhere.”
Also on the international front, I understand that Fauchon recently relauched its ‘travel retail’ strategy. Could you please describe the motivations behind this?
Samy Vischel: “The travel retail segment is particularly interesting for Fauchon. We have a strong presence in France and Paris in particular, but also across other locations in Europe as well as the Middle East and Asia. Post-pandemic, the segment remains very slow, with a number of airports and destinations still closed. For Japanese customers especially the travel retail is extremely important, as the brand is well recognised in Japan – unfortunately, we don’t have many Japanese or indeed Americans coming to Paris, so travel retail is still down.
“A few months ago we opened a new outlet at Bahrain Airport – a kiosk offering macarons and chocolates. However, the airport is currently operating at about 50-per-cent occupancy, and results from our kiosk are therefore not as good as expected. Travel retail remains quite complicated because it’s still quite difficult to travel. I was in Dubai and Qatar the other week – I did four PCR tests and had to download applications, log into websites and wait for confirmations. Business people are travelling, because they often have to, yet the number of tourist travellers is clearly down. Last November, we opened an outlet at Paris Montparnasse Station, the results of the first months are good and this is encouraging for the future. So, hopefully in 2022 the activity and the business will start to return.”
How has Fauchon responded to the need for a strong digital presence, and how is the firm leveraging upon what looks to be an enduring trend?
Samy Vischel: “E-commerce is booming worldwide of course – and Fauchon is certainly no exception. The pandemic has clearly accelerated this trend. We are still doubling our sales on figures from last year , while in 2020 we were doubling our sales on those of the previous year. While previously it was around 100 orders a day, now we’re processing 300–400 orders per day. Christmas is a period of the year in which we expect to be doing more than 1,000 orders per day. That obviously requires a major logistical effort and is a little daunting. We’ve never before reached this level of sales in our history – it’s completely insane – and while we are present on a few other luxury gift websites, around 85–90 per cent of our sales are coming from our own website, www.fauchon.com, which of course enables us to better control the quality of the delivery. As you can imagine, we’ve recently recruited a lot of people to help with the web sales. Around 40–50 per cent of our business on the e-commerce side is conducted between 15th November and 15th January, so it’s a completely crazy time for us, but we are as prepared as we possibly can be to ensure that orders are fulfilled in good time for Christmas.”
It’s been over three years since you were appointed to the helm of Fauchon (in June 2018). What are the most important lessons you’ve learnt within the role over that time?
Samy Vischel: “I have to be honest and say that it was not an easy time to start heading up the company. Like other businesses, we faced a huge crisis – unprecedented in the history of Fauchon, in fact. It was destabilising and meant we had to take extremely difficult decisions, such as closing shops and unfortunately reducing our workforce, too. However, I learnt that you have to put your personal feelings aside in order to really think for the company, taking difficult decisions to save the company, preserve as many jobs as possible and ensure that the brand can survive through such a crisis. Unfortunately, there have been a lot of brands worldwide that have fallen by the wayside, but we feel fortunate to have taken the right decisions at the right time – and now we are really on a fast-track to opening up and further developing our brand.
“Personally, I would say I’ve learnt the importance of having your feet on the ground, having a clear head, and taking decisions for the company. Also, the importance of rethinking structure and way of doing things, regardless of how difficult such change might be. This crisis has led us to scrutinise everything about what we’re doing, to see if it could be done differently and better. Most importantly when making such changes, I’ve learnt how crucial it is to ensure that your people change with you, and grow with you. We’ve succeeded in bringing everyone along with this change – in the way that we work and the way that we think, and ensuring that everyone moves together in that new direction with a new shared vision. If you try to do this process on your own, without the passion of the team behind you, then it’s over.”
Looking ahead, what are Fauchon’s upcoming plans and overall strategy for future growth?
Samy Vischel: “We recently opened our second store in Mexico, then in Qatar we’ve recently opened a restaurant in a beautiful place with a fantastic terrace. There is also a new shop in Argentina. Alongside such brand new ventures, we also have our upcoming Fauchon School – we have 10 people currently preparing the school, working towards a provisional opening slated for between September 2022 and January 2023. It’s a 50,000-square-feet school that will accommodate around 700 students annually, with training in the areas of bakery, pastry, chocolate-making, and much more. We’re partnering with the prestigious NEOMA Business School. Encouragingly, we already have people who love the concept and are actually interested in opening other Fauchon schools across the world. For now, however, we’re really focusing on our school in Rouen Rive Gauche. We really want to succeed in this new area of business, so we’re taking the necessary time to ensure that everything is in order and just perfect.
“Finally, I shall hopefully soon be able to announce a few more Fauchon Hotel locations slated for opening in 2023 or 2024 – crucially, in countries in which we do not currently have a presence, so these new launches will be very important to our brand. Without doubt, a lot will be happening at Fauchon within the next three to six months, so it is certainly an exciting time for us.”
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