With around 40% of China’s wine being imported, foreign wineries and wine distributors have been presented with an enormous opportunity for global expansion. The market also appears to be maturing, which signals the end of more experimental purchases in lower quality products and a shift in the market focus to higher quality wines that serve a more luxury-oriented consumer mindset.
With opportunities abundant in the Chinese wine markets, many companies are starting to consider the benefits of not only entering as a foreign company but also how to promote and market their wines in a quick and compliant fashion. Additionally, brands are becoming increasingly aware of the opportunities to boost sales by leveraging the capabilities of a global PEO.
In this article, we discuss the best strategies and recommendations for capitalizing in this lucrative market.
China Wine Market Industry – Statistics
The Chinese wine market has been said to be booming for the past several years. But what do the statistics say? According to China Wine Competition:
The wine consumption in China is expected to rise by over one third to $23 billion throughout the following five years when it will reach a volume of 192 million cases.
In 2018, the imported wine in China was valued at approximately EUR 2.5 billion. ISWR has predicted that wine imports in China will increase by 8% in 2019.
This growth represents an 80% increase from the market’s position back in 2013. Approximately 20% of the imported wine in China is bulk wine, with the remainder being bottled wine.
As of 2021, the top ten wine-producing countries leading imports into China are:
How to Promote and Market Wines in China
Digital Communication and Social Networks
People in China are known for their adoration of new technology. It’s no secret that many Chinese citizens have heavy smartphone usage for both business-related purposes as well as posting and surveying social media networks. Indeed, according to statistics, over 900 million people in the People’s Republic of China had access to the internet.
The record also shows that in 2014, of the 2.9 billion internet users in the world, 20% were from China. And staying with the trends of the rest of the developed world, the vast majority of people accessing the internet do so through their smartphones.
The internet provides new opportunities for Chinese wine investors to connect with potential customers, identify their target market, and much more.
What makes this phenomenon even more interesting is the fact that China has banned some of the world’s most popular social media websites, including the Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, just to name a few. Instead, China developed its own microblogging sites to satisfy the gaps in their marketplace left by their international bans. These include:
Statistics show that as of 2020, Wechat had over 1.2 billion monthly users. It is now not only used by the Chinese population, but it has expanded into other international markets and used by people of other nationalities, most commonly as a means to communicate with a friend or colleague living in China.
WeChat is currently the 5th leading social network worldwide in terms of active users. This medium allows for a more confidential means of communication for Chinese residents.
Created in 2009, Weibo, which is Chinese for “microblog,” is a hybrid form of both Twitter and Facebook. The company reported that it now has 462 million active users monthly, with 254 million using it daily. Of the total number of users, 91% utilize their mobile phones to access Weibo.
Though social media networks of this kind, wine brands and products can be effectively promoted and marketed in China. Awareness and education about the wine brand are important. Since the Chinese are avid followers of specialized websites, it will benefit wine companies to introduce their brands to the public through microblogging and other social sites.
Weibo, for one, has attracted considerable interest from the French wine industry. With the help of SOPEXA and through each company’s own initiative, French wineries now have their own Weibo pages, which have tens of thousands of Chinese followers. They include, among others, the following:
In order to amplify the brand’s impact on the web, SOPEXA’s strategy was to engage opinion leaders and experts in both foreign and Chinese wines, spirits, and gastronomy, and organize wine tasting events. These experts typically have millions of followers online, thus allowing for virtually free advertising that generates a snowball effect in other marketing efforts.
What is more, the impact of this networking is revealing itself in the tourism sector. Along with being a popular destination for wine fans, Toulouse is one of the most attractive cities in France for Chinese students. In response, the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in China has recommended the organization of wine-related events, such as harvest day, wine tasting, etc. to allow for the promotion of wines in Southwest France via Weibo.
Opportunities like this are widespread and boost to bottom lines can be achieved rapidly when the country’s social media is leveraged effectively by wineries and Chinese wine distributors.
Partner with the Right People
To stand out in the Chinese wine markets, you need to position yourself as a true expert in wine.
One effective way to do this is to position key members of the company as thought leaders. In China, 10% of people influence 90% of the population, so it is important both to have your company participate in thought leadership and to partner with influencers, who are able to skyrocket your sales by putting you in front of millions of people online.
If influencers are outside your budget, you can demonstrate your expertise by using a wine expert in your advertising materials. For example, you can hire a French wine expert to appear in your ads.
One way to make the most out of your content marketing efforts is to use video, and make sure to feature a sommelier. The Chinese are more open to multimedia and more responsive to it than many other peoples, so this presents a great opportunity. Use your spokesperson to tell a story about the history of wine since oral history is such a strong part of the Chinese tradition.
Participate in the Best Wine Shows in China
It is easy to get lost in the jungle of Chinese wine events. Contradictory information and confusion may arise from this. The country holds numerous wine tasting, winery tours, wine shows, and has various wine salons, showrooms, shops, and events. The cities of Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu, Guanxi and, of course, Hong Kong are renowned for holding these wine events.
To promote your Chinese wine or foreign brand most effectively, find the events that are the most popular. The best include:
Of the abovementioned Chinese wine shows, the Tang Jiu Hui show is a unanimous favorite mainly since it is already well-established in China. It is common for the Chinese importer to invite the foreign wine provider to this event since it is attended by the most prolific wine operators, such as wholesalers, producers, importers, and distributors.
The Tang Jiu Hui show also referred to as the Chengdu Food and Drinks Fair is normally held March of each year in the city of Chengdu, which remains to be unexplored fully by international wine producers. However, the Tang Jiu Hui show serves as a true barometer of the Chinese wine market, as well as other alcoholic beverages. It is attended by operators who prefer not to travel to other events held in other coastal cities as Canton, Shanghai, etc.
This Chengdu Fair is typically held in an area 100,000 sqm in size, allowing 3,000 exhibitors and up to 300,000 visitors. Organizers declared that the revenues acquired from this event amount to about 20 billion RMB (2.5 billion Euros).
Chinese Wine Consumers – Target Profile and Criteria
There are numerous business opportunities available to investors in the Chinese wine market.
Regardless of which region in a Chinese wine investor may be interested in entering into, it’s important to establish a strategic plan before making your initial investment. Strategists recommend targeting younger, well-educated consumers with more disposable income for the majority of marketing outreach.
Motivation is another important factor to consider. The most commonly stated reason for drinking wine in China is for the variety of health benefits it can offer. Additionally, female wine drinkers on the younger end of the market drink wine specifically for its health and beauty benefits.
Below are some of the most frequently-cited health benefits to drinking wine:
Some scientists have found evidence that drinking a glass of wine can contribute to these benefits when consumed responsibly and with moderation. From a marketing perspective, it’s evident that these health and beauty benefits fit perfectly into the package that many female wine consumers are looking for. There is also the cultural advantage for wine investors in the fact that Chinese people associate wine with being of a higher social class.
Class plays a different role in Asian countries than it does in the Western world. In China, an individual’s social strata are primarily defined by their economic and social status.
There are currently 10 recognized social strata, which include business owners, government officials, well-known doctors and lawyers, industrial and agricultural laborers, and the unemployed. The service industry employs the majority of China’s working class, signaling a shift in culture from a time when industrial workers held this status.
With the continual growth of the country’s working middle class, this group has begun to gain more economic resources and increased leverage. Chinese officials believe this growth indicates future improvements to the economy of the country as a whole.
Over the past 20 years, there has also been a decrease in the percentage of peasants in the country, which is a promising indicator that recent economic reforms have given the working class more freedom and opportunity for success. There has also been a shift in the mindset of China’s youth, who are opting to leave their rural hometowns in favor of more appealing opportunities to attend university or secure jobs in larger cities. This lack of desire for agricultural work from the younger generations is a sign of a changing cultural mindset that will likely impact the future generations of Chinese citizens. Cultural changes like these are signs of the process China has made in recent decades, thanks to economic reforms that allow more social mobility to work classes in rural areas.
It’s important to be aware of the cultural and class-dependent nuances of China in order to make educated decisions regarding the China wine markets. Throughout the country, showing others that one has the ability to afford certain wines and drink them on a regular basis represents their effort to affirm their place in their desired class socially.
All things considered, it’s essential that anyone looking to expand their wine business into China will need to identify the motivations of their specific target market early on in the process. Understanding the complex facets of social classes and the mindset of younger generations are key influencers in a business’s approach.
Based on a 2013 study conducted by Wine Intelligence, the typical consumer of imported wine in China is male, between 30 and 39 years old, residing in Shanghai, belongs to the middle to upper classes, and earns over 10,000 RMB monthly. He is someone who likes to discover and consume new variants of wine, especially red wine mainly due to its health benefits. He would normally spend 100 and 300 RMB (10 to 35 Euros) per bottle.
Consumption profiles differ enormously according to age. The following age segmentation of wine consumers in China will provide an idea to wine producers in their target market:
In 2019, Wine Intelligence’s China Portraits 2019 report identified different groups of consumers, with interesting characteristics that reflect the profiles seen in developed wine markets. Several consumer profiles emerged:
With regard to purchasing criteria, the origin of the wine and the price of the wine are the main basis. Moreover, depending on the consulting firms, the criteria considered are based on the name, the brand, the label and the shape of the bottle. In descending order importance, the best-known varieties of Chinese wine for consumers are as follows:
At the margin of the profiles presented, it is interesting to report another entirely speculative buying behavior and which concerns only the grands crus. The Liv-ex website now based in London was created a few years ago by two bankers from Hong Kong. The classification of great wines is presented with stock market indices. When a wine is well rated by a renowned critic, the Chinese wine consumers massively invest in them, which quickly increases the prices of the respective wines. This is a very high-risk market whose prices fluctuate very rapidly.
Different Wine Consumption Habits between North and South China
Chinese wine consumers are known to be one of the most difficult groups to understand and equally challenging to create a market strategy for. As discussed above, some Chinese wine consumers prefer online methods of wine research, while other demographics prefer to visit wineries and take a hands-on approach to their wine connoisseurship. Of the estimated 38 million upper-middle class wine drinkers in China, approximately 9 out of 10 actively use the internet, with just under 50% using the internet to purchase wine.
Similar to many other Asian markets, Chinese wine consumers are highly influenced by foreign luxury wine brands. There is a popular ideal in China that these big brands are the best choice for the average consumer, which makes it difficult for competitors to break into the market and win consumer trust. The positive impact of this cultural norm, however, is that winning over the trust of the Chinese market will likely lead to acquiring a loyal customer base for the foreseeable future.
Despite numerous consumption specificities in different regions of China, China remains – overall – an enthusiastic and prolific consumer of wine. Wine is mostly consumed in big cities located in the North (led by Beijing), East Coast (Shanghai), and South (Canton, Hong Kong) regions of China. This is to be contrasted with other areas, in smaller cities and the west of China, where wine sales struggle to take off.
In Beijing, consumption among the middle class is almost non-existent. This is because the officials and the army are the only the ones who “traditionally” bought wine using the money of the public.
Canton and Shanghai are characteristically more economical and have a large expatriate community. They are home to modern megacities where middle-class individuals consume wine on a regular basis. The climate in these regions is much warmer in the winter, but just as unsustainable during summer, with temperatures close to 40°C. The region is, therefore, more interested in consuming fresh and fruity white wines. The Chinese wine market in these regions is still growing. Spirits like Armagnac are more appreciated in South China.
How to Entice the Chinese Consumer
As a winemaker or marketer, you have the leverage on what marketing mix to propose in order to adapt to the Chinese wine market. The study conducted by SOPEXA could be a big help. According to that research, the shape of the bottle was a key element: “Bordeaux” bottles preferably must have high-shoulder, whereas Champagne bottles should be made synonymous with prestige and quality, and are highly appreciated by consumers.
As regards the label, it is advisable to keep them simple, traditional and must show clearly the origin, the signs of quality (AOC) and any awards received. The Chinese appreciate calligraphy-style typography with red and gilded color profiles. The image showed above of the Bordeaux is an example of such labeling. It illustrates a graphical editing made by SOPEXA for a Bordeaux domain. Some producers choose to have their brand translated into Chinese to be more appealing, but this is not, however, a guarantee of success. From the regulatory perspective, labels must be translated into the Chinese language in any case.
Furthermore, given the gift-culture persisting in China, it is advisable to consider the packaging seriously. Wooden crate packaging for a range of wines, particularly premium brands, is an element to consider. It is also wise to consider that Chinese wine consumers appreciate the sweetness but do not support the bitterness in wines. It is therefore wise to propose fruity red wines. Red wines made by heat treatment seem perfectly adapted to the Chinese target market. An example of a wine that encompasses this sensory profile is the Tarani red wine, which is the most sold in Casal Group stores in China.
To learn more about Asian tastes, check out the book Asian Palate by Jeannie Cho Lee. The author’s website (www.asianpalate.com) includes information on how to choose wine based on Asian cuisine flavors: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami.
You may even be interested in reading on how to protect your wine brand from fake wine in China.
The Best-Selling Imported Wines in China
With more than 80% market share, Chinese wines are the leaders in wine sales. Big groups like Changyu and Great Wall-COFCO sell more than 30 million bottles of their entry-level vintage, which is marketed around 60 RMB (7 euros). As far as imported wines are concerned, research carried out by the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in China (CCIFC) on importers and distributors provided the top 5 best-selling imported wines.
The Top Five Wine in China
It’s interesting to note the significant impact China makes on the Australian wine market and its exports. China accounts for over half of Australia’s entire exports, which speaks to the incredible demand from a Chinese wine marketplace that is also heavily invested in imported wines from Mediterranean countries like France and Italy.
Organization of Wine Distribution in an Immature Market
Wine Sales: A Profitable Business without Any Transparency
In 2005, imported wine began to gain traction across China thanks in part to the improved mobility the country gained by joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) four years prior. Famous wines from various regions of France and Italy began making their way into markets across China and quickly gaining popularity among the country’s wine communities.
Three years later in early 2008, Hong Kong adjusted their policies to make imported wine tariff-free, resulting in an 80% increase in important wines. Naturally, much of this wine made its way to the China mainland via various distributors.
Like a lot of things in China, the Chinese wine market is not transparent, thus rendering it very difficult to acquire accurate and reliable data. The importance of B2B, i.e. wholesale purchases by officials of corporate gifts, remains difficult to evaluate. However, as estimated by SOPEXA, it could represent up to 25% of sales of imported wines, the majority of which are sold in CHR (50%). The remaining part (25%) is marketed in GMS which remains the circuit preferred for distribution of Chinese wines.
The imported wines on the Chinese territory are subject to two taxes applied on the value CIF of goods (value including the cost of purchase, insurance, and transport): the consumption one of 10%; another equivalent to 17% VAT. Following the accession of China to the World Trade Organization (WTO), customs duties applied to wines, especially bottled wines, fell by more than 50 points in four years.
Customs duties for wine are currently 14%. For information purposes, transport from France to China of a 40-foot container could cost about 2,500 Euros plus 2,000 Euros more for customs clearance. As far as margins are concerned, importers generally multiply the starting prices by 3 to 4 times for B2B sales (sale to wholesalers) and by 5 to 10 times in B2C sales (consumer sales).
Margins imposed by the Chinese wine merchants and restaurateurs are from 2.5 times to 5 times. A wine that leaves for 2 euros from France is easily found in China at 160 RMB (20 euros). Despite the imported wines in China being widely taxed, the margins are much higher than those in other markets like the USA where the same wine would end up about 9 or 10 US dollars (7 euros).
The distribution in China is also marked by its lack of transparency. Depending on the mode of distribution (e.g. wine store, CHR or e-commerce) and its conditioning (in wooden case or not), the same wine can end up at 100, 200 or even 300 RMB. These tariff issues reflect a profound immaturity of the market. In terms of transparency, e-commerce and some chains of wine shops like Everwines (Torres China), lead the way with margin systems and prices inherited from the European model.
It must be noted that the competence of importers generally leaves something to be desired. Some of them got into the wine business after making a fortune in textiles or in other industries. It is not so rare to find a generic Bordeaux, whether white or red, or of vintages older than 2006, sold at 500 RMB, or close to 60 euros.
Chinese Wine Importers and Their Expectations
Traditionally, the distribution of alcoholic beverages in China rests in the hands of a state-owned company (COFCO), which also imported cereals, oils and food products. Such a monopoly has however relaxed, with many import licenses now allotted to private importer-wholesalers. Currently, the top eight importers in China are as follows:
Most importers are located in areas where there is a strong market, e.g. Beijing, Shanghai, and southern cities. Most of the focus there is on entry-level wines between 1.30 and 1.60 euros (starting price). In this price range, both have been particularly interested in PGIs from Oc, Costières de Nîmes PDOs and all other PDO wines at low prices.
Regulations on the China Export Market
A few commonly overlooked aspects of the Chinese wine market lie in the potential penalties and problems that can arise from not complying with local export regulations. China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision – Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) set certain regulations that must be followed by all wine parties involved in the Chinese wine industry in order to qualify for entry into the country’s wine market.
Other standards and regulations pertaining to the China wine export market include:
Though not yet fully explored, e-commerce is developing at a fast pace in China and observers expect this to open up new opportunities in China. Organizing wine distribution remains to be an immature market in China. In a visit made by our group of the Everwines (Torres China) in Beijing, it was observed that the wines are presented in a modern way and the prices are high and offered at an international level. Another cellar that was less transparent than the more traditional approach contained French wine without GI and was sold at 458 RMB (55 euros). There were illustrations of flags in the background and the offer is essentially French.
Alibaba broke all online sales records on the occasion of the Singles party. In just 24 hours, the sales figures approached $6 billion. Internet sales now account for only about 5% of wine sales. The main online wine shopping sites are as follows:
This can also be explained by the absolute transparency offered by this sales approach. It provides a very competitive distribution method as well as very low delivery costs, which vary from 10 to 15 RMB (around 2 euros). According to Edmond Zhou, an expert at the CCIFC, the next challenge for e-commerce in China will be to ensure ultra-fast delivery to the customer, i.e. less than four hours from the time it was ordered. This revolution may prove risky and detrimental for a large number of importers who have failed to utilize this important digital shift.
The Showrooms of Imported Wines in China
Showrooms are places where the best of the Chinese wine markets are presented. Showrooms of wine imports are widely spread across China. The goal is to promote wines by connecting customers (individuals or wholesalers) with importers. In a visit to Yantai, province of Shandong, our local interlocutors showed us the Yantai Free Port Wine Imported Exhibition and Transaction Center. This immense commercial building, located in the heart of the Yantai Free Zone and composed of several dozen exhibition spaces, aims to become an expert and source across the country.
The transactions carried out involved the stores being directly managed and operated by importers or independent companies, or it could importers a commission. Some of these spaces are from a collective approach, for example, the use of the effigy of wines from New Zealand. The vine-growers who wish to be represented have to make available a hundred samples and adjust their transportation costs to China.
Establishing an Entity for Wine Sales in China
Companies interested in exploiting the opportunities in the Chinese wine markets have a number of options when it comes to the choice of the legal entity.
Wine brands in China can use a PEO to hire an ambassador to represent their wines and their brand. This brand ambassador can become the link between the vineyard and the distributor, which is the fastest way to tap into the Chinese market and increase sales. These ambassadors can be a local Chinese wine specialist, or an international expert, depending on the specific needs and goals of the company.
For most, however, the best approach will be to recruit key staff members at the executive and professional levels and then use a PEO solution to handle all of the administrative aspects of their employment.
A PEO gives makers of Chinese wine and distributors the opportunity to get staff in place quickly whilst ensuring that all compliance needs are handled. Using a PEO as the Employer of Record in China is more advantageous than using a distributor. For more information about these important services, please get in touch with our consultants who can assist with all aspects and create a bespoke end-to-end employment solution for your needs in China.