Wine Vision: China uncovered

20 November, 2013

Wine sales growth in China can be found if the country's drinking culture, diverse regions and consumer groups are better understood and if e-commerce is utilised, according to Chinese industry professionals.

Speaking at Wine Vision, the London conference that took place 18-20 November, Chen Xuguang, CEO of Xiamen C&D International Wines & Spirits Group, said: “To understand the Chinese market you need to understand why people drink wine in China.”

“To apply the way wine is drunk in Europe to China is extremely difficult. For most Chinese people wine is not something that is used to complement a meal. Wine is emotional sustenance and expression – it brings people closer. In traditional Chinese culture wine is a very good thing – all of the heroes in Chinese legends drink a lot.

“Chinese do not drink for etiquette or decorum they drink for enjoyment. Most Chinese drink quickly and gulp it down. It is ‘Bottoms Up’ every time.”

Xuguang added that to increase sales in China, wine should be “smooth”, “excellent quality” and “inexpensive”, and the branding should be “tailored to the Chinese consumer” – though not at the expense of the bottle’s “foreign” appearance.

David Pedrol, Director of, the largest online retailer in China with projected sales of €70 million this year, said Chinese “trust online” sales platforms and that the country is now “the biggest [in the world] for ecommerce, with 300 million online shoppers this year”.

He said: “First we try to teach consumers the value of wines – we have up to four pages of information for each wine. On Singles Day [a type of Valentines’ Day for singles] we sold 150,000 bottles in one day.”

Ian Ford, managing partner in Summergate Fine Wines in China, said e-commerce is the “most dynamic” channel in China and is “opening up the market” beyond first tier cities. 

He said: “People who are not reached by the distribution machine can go on the wine sites and have an extraordinary array of products [on offer]. It’s having a much deeper effect than it would have in mature markets.”

Debra Meiburg MW, who chaired the debate pointed out that e-commerce “is not as successful in Hong Kong”, where traditional shopping is preferred.

The panel agreed that finding the right importer was essential to a wine brand’s success in China. 

Don St. Pierre Jr, co-founder and executive chairman of ASC Fine Wines, said:  “The first hurdle is to get the right importer. Many people are unprofessional, selling at a price that doesn’t represent the quality of the wine. If your goal is to build a brand it’s a challenging environment.

There’s a massive amount of confusion in the market. It’s becoming critical that you have a trademark for your wine – in the local language too.

Pierre Jr said that there is also cause for optimism. “China is moving more and more in the direction of buying a consumption economy, rather than an export led economy. We overestimate how good China is at making short-term changes and underestimate how good China is at making long-term changes.” 

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