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China Wine Market Follows its Own Path

Wine-Searcher by David Allen MW19/06/2017  

The growth of interest in selling to Chinese consumers and the opening of their markets to exporters has been a significant recent trend in the global wine industry.

One of the often-quoted wine marketing aphorisms of the 1990s expounded the idea that if China's population consumed just a bottle of wine each a year the then EU wine lake would be drained and every exporter's woes would apparently be at an end.

China is now the biggest market for Bordeaux wines and, indeed the biggest market globally for red wine in general. The EU's wine lake was drained by other means, but official Chinese statistics now show year to year growth in wine import volumes that stood at 15 percent last year. Imported wines are estimated to comprise about 30 percent of the overall Chinese market, yet information about this increasingly important market and demand from Chinese consumers is difficult to find.

Earlier this year, for the Great Wines of the Southern Hemisphere event at the Chengdu Wine Fair, Wine-Searcher examined the trends that can be seen in searches coming from users from within the Chinese wine market. We have used this information to produce a short video presentation, combining the salient facts. Our results give some quite clear insights into the way the market for imported wines is developing and what is proving popular.

Our findings are based on analyzing 1,032,090 searches we saw come from China between March 1, 2016 and February 28, 2017. In this period, Wine-Searcher usage in China grew by about 60 percent over the previous year. These searches make China the number 10 country of origin for searches through the Wine-Searcher website. Unsurprisingly, we saw a majority of searches coming from four major cities - Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

First, we saw that the Chinese market is still predominantly searching for red wines. While the trend may see more white wines being searched for, they still only make up 20 percent – at most – of searches from Chinese consumers.

The market is clearly dominated by French wines with 54.2 percent of matched searches being for French wines. Given this dominance, it is interesting to see levels of interest in the Italian red grape varieties Sangiovese and Nebbiolo, that are as high as or higher than is the case globally. Interest inSyrah/Shiraz is also outstripping its global search percentage, something that probably reflects the success of Australian wine sales in China, a performance also supported by strong search figures seen for red wines that are blends comprising varieties commonly found in the Southern Rh?ne.

The Chinese market is less interested in US wines on average than the rest of the world, and its limited interest in sparkling wine is demonstrated by relatively low numbers of searches for Champagne blends.

By comparing the picture constructed from Chinese search data with that we see coming from Hong Kong – which was traditionally the portal for wine exports into China – we see the two markets diverging sharply, with Hong Kong looking for more traditional (72.8 percent French and 41.5 percent Bordeaux blends) wines and favoring wines at higher price points.

Other than France, importers doing well on the Chinese market were Italy, Australia, Chile, Germany and New Zealand. The picture we see built up from Chinese search data is one of a market that is maturing quickly and whose consumers have the confidence to be receptive to a wider range of wines from all around the world.

The link that follows is to a video which is a digest of the presentation given in Chengdu in March.