French confectionery brand La Cure Gourmande opened its first Asian outlet in Lotte Department Store Sogong-dong branch in central Seoul, last week.
The 36-square-meter store is conspicuously decorated in sunshine yellow, with more than 30 kinds of candies, cookies, caramels and chocolates, all imported from France. On the very first day, it grossed the highest sales in the department store’s food section.
What makes the store different from other famous dessert shops, such as fellow French brand Fauchon and Gongtran Cherrier, is the service.
Staff named “sunshine” offer sample cookies and chocolates, while customers are encouraged to pack their own cookies from the cookies shelves. They can also touch, press or smell nougat and caramels, and are expected to spend an average of 15 minutes in the store, trying out everything there.
A photo of La Cure Gourmande outlet at Lotte Department Store in Sogong-dong, central Seoul. (La Cure Gourmande)
“We wanted people to feel nostalgic when they enter the store, bring back their memories of going to an old candy store and sticking their noses into the cookies and caramels,” said Edouard Hennebert, founder of the company. The company is planning to open two more outlets at department stores in southern Seoul and Gyeonggi Province while reinforcing the lineups to 150 kinds of products by the end of the year.
The arrival of La Cure Gourmand has two significant meanings for the Korean retail market.
First, it reflects the transition of power, from retail channels to the brands. Hennebert said his Korean store was established upon request from Lotte Department Store looking for something fresh and new.
“Lotte Department Store was searching for dessert brands that could cement their market status as a high-end and luxury retail channel, just like what Louis Vuitton and Chanel used to three decades ago,” said Stephane Lo, CEO of La Cure Gourmande Korea.
Lotte, as well as its market rivals Hyundai and Shinsegae, dispatches its staff across the globe in search of yet unknown but high-end desserts. “Going upscale in foods, seeking luxury boutiques is the latest trend in the retail market,” a merchandiser at the department store said.
The second implication is that even the dessert stores are adopting “shopping experience” to their marketing. “Rather than having glass shelves between the shop clerks and customers we have decided to encourage people to make the most use of their time in the shop, try and feel the products, as if they are in a cosmetics store,” Lo said.
“I see huge potential in the market because more and more people are looking for sweet things to go along their expresso-based coffees and they don’t mind spending money on themselves,” he added.
By Bae Ji-sook (firstname.lastname@example.org)