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The year of the dragon: A fiery prospect for winemakers?

By Kacey Culliney , 19-Jan-2012

Chinese New Year: a prosperous period for international wine companies
Chinese New Year: a prosperous period for international wine companies

International wine makers will reap the benefits of the Chinese New Year period where wine consumption will at least double, according to industry experts.

Chinese New Year falls next Monday this year but the holiday period extends either side of this date.

Val Smith, chairman of International Wine and Spirit Research (IWSR) told FoodNavigator-Asia that wine companies will be pushing harder to sell to China around this time and will probably see higher sales during the lead-up to the Chinese New Year.

Irene Yu, a specialist on the Chinese wine market at China Market Research (CMR) agreed that the New Year period will offer increased opportunities due to a large increase in consumption of both foods and beverages.

“Wine consumption is doubled or tripled compared to other times in the year. This is contributed by a large number of wine drinking occasions such as company annual dinners, friends gathering in bars, KTVs (karaoke bars) and restaurants, wedding events and family gatherings,” she added.

She noted that there will be consumers trying wine for the first time, and those who already drink wine will become more sophisticated in their tastes and choice.

The overall wine market is generally healthy and growing, she said, with more people drinking wine in China due to increasing disposable incomes and a broader range of wine prices.

A recent CMR research project showed that the market is growing at 20-30% a year and forecasts that this growth is set to continue over the next five years.

International, premium sipping

Despite imported wines often being at least double the price of local wines, it seems to be a popular choice in China as “the image of wine drinking is further enhanced when consuming an imported product.”

“Chinese people have the impression that drinking wine is elegant and a high-class, social activity,” she added, and so the wealthier and younger consumers tend to choose imported wine as they are considered more authentic and are associated with a higher class image, compared to drinking local wines.

Yu noted that research revealed French wines to be the preferred choice among Chinese consumers.

Smith predicted that choices will likely be French and possibly Australian wines, which falls in line with CMR’s research.

Amateur taste buds

Yu explained that while drinking wine is increasingly popular in China, the majority of this consumer group remain “amateur”, and many “heavily rely on store consultant advice when selecting wine.”

For most wine drinkers in China, price continues to be a major indicator of good value wine for them.

Serena Sutcliffe, Master of Wine (MW) and worldwide head of Sotheby’s wine department, a UK-based auctioneer, said that working in Asia is a discovery process.

“The Asian taste started with red wine, but now it also includes white Bordeaux and Burgundy and a new passion for great champagne,” Sutcliffe told this publication.

However, Smith disagreed and said that red is still the popular choice, something that his colleague Jose Luis Hermoso a senior analyst at IWSR previously told this publication.

Hermoso had said that the preference for red was driven by cultural factors , including the fact that in China the colour red symbolises joy and strength and white is the colour of death.

Sutcliffe added that overall the Chinese market, along with other Asian markets, holds huge potential as more people are becoming accustomed to drinking wine with meals.

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