Centuries ago, France claimed its reputation as the world champagne leader, and since then, never stopped experimenting and innovating in the wine industry. Today, we chatted with the brilliant female duo behind one of the major non-alcoholic brands from France—the powerhouses Constance Jablonski and Maggie Frerejean-Taittinger, whose bi-cultural friendship and hankering to challenge the status quo blossomed into a line of the already iconic NA bubbly French Bloom.
Below you’ll find the ladies’ takes on how developing soft skills can help consolidate a business and affirm optionality in the previously rigid food&beverage industry, as well as their recs on how to deal with things relatable to everyone, regardless of their career path—the fear of failure, stepping out of comfort zone, and embracing the inner right to say ‘no,’ when you feel pressed into saying ‘yes.’
Has starting a full-fledged business changed the way you care for yourself and what can we do to balance our work and personal life?
Maggie Frerejean-Taittinger: Constance and I both had quite a few 'entrepreneurial' qualities that we've leveraged in our other careers—Constance as a model and myself managing the International Development for the Michelin Guide. But it's a game changer, when it's your own project: you suddenly access this limitless source of energy and passion. That being said, it's extremely important to strive for balance, and as new moms, we're both learning how to manage the different roles we have. For me, learning to say ‘no’ has been an integral part of that journey. No to unnecessary tasks that don't bring me closer to my goals; no to events or engagements that don't bring joy or serve a purpose. Constance and I also encourage each other to prioritize self-care, as hard as it can sometimes be. Having French Bloom available at some of our favorite restaurants and hotels also helps enormously, because it takes the pressure off of having to drink something alcoholic when we're at business dinners or out with friends. I always say, abstaining from alcohol gives me extra hours in the day! It's extremely empowering.
The single skill that I regularly recommend industry insiders to start focusing on is empathy. I know, you’re probably thinking “Can that be worked on? My answer is yes. Researchers have discovered that far from being an immutable trait, empathy can be developed. It’s about moving regularly beyond our own worldviews to try to understand those held by other people. It’s about acknowledging your own biases, we all have them. And stepping out of your bubble.
Empathy is imperative in the alcohol-free drinks business. I'm speaking regularly with leaders in the hospitality industry, mega-event organizers, the travel sector, on why it is no longer acceptable to not have alcohol-free options ‘at the same level and experience of fine wines and champagnes’ for all guests, not just the majority in the room. And for me, that's about empathy.
During my pregnancy, I understood what it could feel like to be excluded from weddings, business dinners, and other social gatherings, because I was not drinking alcohol. And I strive regularly to put myself in the shoes of a French Bloom customer in the more than 20 countries we are present in, to understand what they are looking for in terms of concept, taste and the entire experience around the brand. I’m proud that with French Bloom, we are helping create more inclusive and long-lasting celebrations.
As a brand in the beverage industry, who’s your current consumer, gender-wise, and what are some of the consumer segments you’d like to tap into more?
French Bloom's customers tend to skew female, but not only (the ratio is 70/30%). In the first two markets where we launched, France and the UK, over half of French Bloom consumers were purchasing an alcoholic beverage (e.g., wine, champagne or a spirit) at the same time that they bought French Bloom, which meant that our customers weren't only pregnant women, those driving, allergic to alcohol, or those who are fully sober... They are important segments to us, and we welcome them with open arms and pride. But French Bloom is attracting people from all walks of life, mostly those looking to reduce their consumption of alcohol, without necessarily sacrificing their social life. It’s for those who believe that a night off alcohol doesn’t have to necessarily mean a night in.
What are some of the roadblocks you observed as female founders?
There tends to be a gender imbalance in the wine industry, which has led to some unnecessary challenges. Though we've built a support system to lean on—a tremendous asset, which includes supportive men and women (investors, leadership team, colleagues, partners, clients) to problem-solve regularly and help us push forward.
What’s at the top of your wish list for women founders and how can we be a support system to the female business owners in our lives?
As females, we need to start celebrating our successes, and that of others within our local communities more, to show other strong women that they can succeed if they take risks. There are many organizations like LeadHers that French Bloom supports, that are designed to give female entrepreneurs support and mentorship and also facilitate connections that traditionally may have been more difficult to achieve as a woman.
What pushes you out of your comfort zone now?
Maggie Frerejean-Taittinger: As much as my past professional experiences may have led me to become a business owner of a fast-growing wine company, every day I'm learning something new. Right now, I'm focusing on the fun of it. I'm trying to enjoy the process of stepping outside of my comfort zone, as I'm regularly discovering things about myself as a leader, manager, and colleague. It's thrilling, to say the least.
Constance Jablonski: Daily, the French Bloom team pushes me. I am always inspired by people, and I love that when we work as a team and keep each other accountable. We all learn from one another and from our differences, and it creates this productive, inspiring energy. I’ve always found it isolating and rather difficult to challenge myself in my career as a model. I recommend everyone to build a team of people who think differently than you. Diversity of thought is everything.
Are there any questions you’re tired of being asked as female founders (we hope none of the above), and what should you be asked more instead? And what’s your answer to this question?
Can you have it all? The work-life balance question primarily targets women, and that shouldn't be the case. It causes women to think that we can't have a family and successful professional career, and I see men rarely asked to consider the same thing.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be like you?
F-T.: Find a mentor who will challenge you in a judgment-free zone. In starting French Bloom, Constance and I have been supported by many women who’ve encouraged us to break the barriers in the alcohol-industry, which has been traditionally male-dominated. Female investors, strategic board members and partners have been an integral part of our success to date, pushing us to create better products and become better leaders and team members, and for that we are grateful.
C. J.: I would tell them to trust their gut and realize that nothing is impossible when you work hard for it. Practice makes perfect, and it’s true. Anyone who is successful had to start from somewhere, and very often the most successful people have found themselves in difficult positions in the past. There are two rules that always come to my mind: if it can happen to others, it can happen to me as well, and there is no failure, only experiences. Every event that occurs is a lesson learned for the future.