The House of Cointreau has recently opened a new multi-sensory visitor experience at the Cointreau Distillery in Saint-Barthélemy-d’Anjou, near Angers, France.
This narrative and immersive journey through the heart of the Angevine distillery, which produces the world-renowned Cointreau liqueur, is now open to visitors. It was designed and built by GSM Project, a leading experience and exhibition designer.
Blooloop spoke to Corinne Lava, Carré Cointreau Heritage Manager at the Distillery in Angers and Eric Demay, Project Director at GSM Project. Together, they spoke about the inspiration and design of the unique experience. They also talked about the challenges presented by the global pandemic.
The Cointreau Museum and Distillery
Lava, who has worked for Cointreau for 25 years, had the privilege of working with Pierre Cointreau, the great-grandson of Edouard Cointreau. She began by explaining the history of the Cointreau Museum and Distillery:
“Visits for the public started one century ago, which means that Cointreau was a pioneer. Edouard Cointreau, himself, the creator of the iconic orange liqueur, initiated tours dedicated to visitors. He printed flyers inviting guests to visit the distillery.”
Cointreau had a pioneering spirit. Over and above his industrial know-how and business acumen, he also enjoyed an innate sense of what would later be known as marketing.
“This means that opening doors and welcoming guests is in our DNA. Following this, many successive investments have been done during the past century to improve and professionalise our welcome and the experience for visitors.
“It started with adapting the building in order to show our know-how in the best way. For instance, enabling visitors to go around the distillation room and creating a walkway to see the bottling lines. Then, in 1987, the distillery added a dedicated building for the museum, tasting and shops.
“From this time, the entrance fee was established. The next important step was in 1999, for the 150th anniversary. We established a real museography, interlinked with the production.”
A multi-sensory experience
As part of the newly-opened multisensory experience, created in partnership with GSM Project, guests can view the distillation process and enjoy the orange perfume from the mezzanine above the still room, home to 19 majestic copper stills.
They can also explore a room dedicated to Edouard Cointreau’s exploration. Another room, ‘Chez les Cointreau’, shows the family’s history of innovation and entrepreneurship.
Finally, visitors will learn about the brand’s advertising campaigns through history. They will also view an immersive animated film about the story behind three classic Cointreau cocktails: the Side Car, the Margarita and the Cosmopolitan. The popular liqueur features in over 500 cocktail recipes.
An important visitor destination
Angers is the place where the adventure began 170 years ago and is the only place where Cointreau is made. This explains why The Cointreau Distillery and Museum plays an important role in the local community and the Anjou region’s tourism industry.
“Cointreau is part of Angers’ history,” says Lava. “Each inhabitant has their own souvenir of Cointreau and is proud of the square bottle that crossed the world. They are all subscribers of the tour.”
“The local tourism industry is also very involved in our offer and uses Cointreau’s reputation to promote the region for holidays and weekends. The number of visitors is around 20,000 per year. People come from all around the world to discover our know-how.”
Creating something new
The Cointreau Distillery and Museum has been entertaining visitors for many years. However, it was important for the attraction to continue to innovate and improve when it comes to the guest experience. This is why it decided to create a new, more immersive experience:
“Cointreau was a pioneer for industrial tourism and is still popular,” says Lava. “But, being the leader in our sector comes with responsibilities. We must remain at the top of everything that we achieve.
“We are not an ordinary visitor centre or museum. Our aim is to be a showroom and also to educate people on how to make cocktails at home. We want visits to be memorable. Each visitor must leave our door with a strong impression of having discovered the rich history and impressive know-how of an incomparable company.”
Awakening the senses with Cointreau
“Above all, we wanted to focus on the sensorial experience of the product itself. For example, touching, smelling, tasting. This is because the brand itself is very sensorial. We wanted to introduce more interactivity with our guests. Plus, it was important to explain more about the orange, and why it is so precious. That is something visitors are always interested in.”
“The Cointreau Distillery and Museum wanted to stay current. But also to refresh some of the messages around our brand and its evolution. However, the most important thing for me was to win the hearts of our guests. The previous tour was not as experiential, so we wanted to bring more sensation.
“We asked for four different agencies to come back to us with their ideas for the project. After seeing these, we decided to work with GSM Project.”
Rethinking the experience
“The first intention was that previously people went one way and then came back the other way,” says Lava. “So, the first thing that we wanted to do was to make it a circuit. That was something really important.
“There are now two different spaces that were not explored before. The first one is the distillery and the mezzanine, where they learn about the process. Here it’s a real experience because they taste and smell the oranges. It’s really immersive.
“We also changed the way we were explaining the history and providing information, getting our message and our brand across, and introducing the idea of using Cointreau for cocktails too.”
“The visitor circulation was one of the aspects that we certainly focused on,” says Demay. “Making sure that there is an arc in the narrative – about Cointreau’s history and know-how – as guests progress through the spaces. We built on what was being understood and explored previously and also added in this idea of cocktails.
“This is a subject which was fairly new to the brand, and certainly new to the experience. The mezzanine is certainly a space where there has been quite a bit of investment to make sure we could tell this story.”
Telling the Cointreau brand story
“We added a new staircase in the distillery to allow for this new circulation,” says Demay. “And we revamped a few of the doors to make sure that it all makes sense throughout.
“But we also kept a few spaces as they were, in the museum. We created a bit more clarity as to how the story is displayed. For instance, talking about the family and really getting a sense of the history of the brand and where it came from.
“The experience also looks at the communication of the Cointreau brand through time. It was really at the forefront of a lot of the commercial advertising in liquors and alcohols through the 20th century. It had some key posters and advertising campaigns that are significant, when you’re looking at the history of graphic design.
“The bottle itself is iconic too. The visual display addresses how the bottle actually hasn’t changed that much in 170 years at all. It has evolved, but there are certain key elements to the signature that remain true through time.”
Narrative and design
“We are designers of visitor experiences,” says Demay. “So, we work to establish the narrative and the strategy of the destination. Both business-wise and also in terms of emotion and communication. We then deploy the narrative and the design elements that need to support that through the space.
“Our role throughout this project was, firstly, to understand what was there, what we needed to keep and what was historically important.”
“We knew that it was already a tradition within the distillery to welcome visitors. And we were excited to be part of that history and learn from their in-house expertise in welcoming visitors into their own spaces.
“One of the things that was great about this space is that it’s only guided visits. So, we can work with the ideas and the story in a more visual fashion – like a stage. You don’t have to explain everything through the space as you would do in a museum, where you have to have information panels and text.
“Here, you can create that sense of immersion and have the story told by an actual human being in a theatrical way. Which is always a great way to connect with a story.”
The Cointreau story
Demay says it was a privilege to work with such a well-loved brand to create something new and engaging:
“In doing this project, we were able to support Cointreau to tell their story throughout this space. Of course, there are operational realities in establishing a visitor experience within a working distillery too.”
“One of the things that we try to keep in mind as we’re developing these experiences is making sure that the narrative is coherent, and that we are hitting the story where we should, throughout the visit. But the integration within the space and between the elements, making sure that everything is tied together and works simultaneously to tell that story, is also key.”
“We chose GSM Project because they have global experience,” says Lava. “What I appreciate is that they understand the brand. They worked hard to truly understand the brand and I think they did achieve this. GSM also understood my concerns about not making it too commercial.”
The challenges of COVID-19
“In a sense, we were fortunate with the timing,” says Demay. “Because the design was done, the creative part was done. We had almost finished production by mid-March and we were planning to have the teams go to Angers to install.
“We then put everything on hold until further notice, when the pandemic struck. I think the biggest challenge was to get everything back running again. We were working with the reality of everyone else opening up and wanting to restart their projects.
“So we had to look at all the suppliers to make sure that things could work out and that all the teams were available to come. Plus, we had to adapt to new sanitary protocols and realities within the Cointreau space, imposed by the local government.
“It was necessary to establish a realistic timeline, but one that also didn’t put in jeopardy Cointreau’s business for the summer. They felt that the tourism industry was ready to pick up. So, they wanted to open as early as possible to benefit from this.
“The challenge was mainly in coordination. We had to ensure that all those teams were able to work together to finish this and to finish it well. And when we did manage to do that and to open on 4 July as planned, it was a great success.”
Opening to the public
Opening the experience this season was a really important project target, says Lava:
“There was a lot of pressure on the teams to be able to open in the first week of July. Because after this date it would have been too late to start the season. We couldn’t have invited our subscribers and so on. We had a lot of visitors right from the start and they are still coming. And the feedback has been fantastic.”
“Another challenge is that fact that we are working from Montreal but the project itself is in France. Many of the other teams were in or near Paris,” adds Demay.
“Every group has its own reality and its own understanding of the risks involved. For instance, stress, health risks, timeline crunches, even financial risks. We had to understand the reality that everyone was working from. It was important to find a middle ground amongst all of us to make this work.”
“For us,” says Lava,” it was good to have the chance to start the tour with fewer people. While we usually have groups of 30 guests, but because of the situation, we started with groups of 15. This gave us a chance to see how the tour worked and to get used to the new experience.”
A popular experience
Now that the experience is open to the public, the feedback from visitors has been overwhelmingly positive.
“They really love it,” says Lava. “People particularly love the mezzanine, because the view is amazing. And they feel like they understand more, they have had a memorable experience and learned something. People who took the tour before have said how much they enjoy the improvements too.”
In conclusion, Demay says, “I think we have struck a good balance between this being a visitor experience based on a commercial brand but also telling an engaging story. There is a great dimension of educational and cultural communication.
“There is a narrative about the region, the history, the process of and complexity of how the product is made and the senses that go into it. It is not simply a marketing or promotional exercise. And I feel like that’s something that guests appreciate because the whole story creates an attraction that is interesting to visit and discover.”
All images kind courtesy of Cointreau