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Italy wine sector uncorks new strategies with China push by China Daily24/02/2021  

The coronavirus pandemic is changing the way Italian wine is sold, and analysts say it is unlikely to go back to the way it was once the virus is less of a threat.

Restaurants and bars-normally the top domestic market for Italian wine-have either been shuttered or been open for business for a dramatically limited period for most of the last year, starting when Italy became the first European country to declare a national coronavirus lockdown.

Blocked from spending evenings out, Italians turned to direct sales. Exports, already a priority for the Italian wine industry before the pandemic, have taken on a new importance, analysts said.

"The industry has been hurt by the closure of restaurants and bars and we don't expect things to get back to normal until at least late 2022," said Paolo Castelletti, secretary-general of the Italian Wine Union, a key industry group. "Wine sellers and distributors have had to adapt."

According to research from the Nomisma Wine Monitor Observatory, the number of Italians buying wine from online retailers has grown by at least 10 percent over the past year, with the average cost per order growing as well. Added to that are rising sales for direct in-person sales.

"Online sales have seen a dramatic increase, especially for those retailers that advertise or that already had a significant presence before the pandemic," Enrico Sabino, an independent consultant who works with online retailers specializing in wine and food, said in an interview.

Sabino said the increase is not nearly enough to compensate for the drop in sales to restaurants and bars, though at least some of those retailers have switched to online sales in recent months.

Francesca Filippone, managing director of L3, a business development consultancy specializing in the food and wine sectors, said the pandemic has only sped up the growth of interest in export markets, particularly to fast-growing markets in Asia.

Asian markets attractive

"Markets in Europe and the United States are almost fully developed, but there is room for strong growth in the Asian markets," Filippone said.

She said the fact that China's economic recovery from the pandemic added to the growing popularity for Italian wine in the country has made it a particularly interesting export market for Italian wine producers. Filippone said the upcoming Vinitaly China Chengdu promotion will be a popular event for Italian wine industry players looking to make up for lost time in the Chinese market.

Castelletti, Sabino, and Filippone all said some aspects of the new sales strategies for Italian wines will last beyond the pandemic, whether it is the habit of Italian consumers to buy more wine directly for the home or for retailers to focus more on exports.

"I think that when restaurants and bars reopen there will be a huge, pent-up demand," Castelletti said.