Mon, Nov 13, 2006 - Page 12 News List

Wine sellers seek to recapture market

UNDAUNTED Hit by cutthroat rivalry, Beaujolais Nouveau sellers are promoting better vintages, hosting an outdoor party and even using Hello Kitty to spice up the market

By Jackie Lin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Two models each hold up a bottle of 2006 Beaujolais Nouveau in a press conference held by Drinks Wines & Spirits Co on Nov. 2 as part of the company's efforts to boost sales of the fruity French wine. Sales of Beaujolais officially starts on the third Thursday of November each year. WARNING: EXCESSIVE CONSUMPTION OF ALCOHOL CAN DAMAGE YOUR HEALTH

PHOTO: WANG MENG-LUN, TAIPEI TIMES

Imports of the fruity French wine Beaujolais Nouveau this year have dwindled by around one-third and retailers are intensifying their marketing campaigns to heat up sales.

The annual tradition of uncorking the wines on the third Thursday of November has become a big media event since 2002, with convenience stores and hypermarkets also cashing in on the trend by competing for the lowest price offering on the market.

Imports of Beaujolais Nouveau surged from 15,016 boxes, or 180,192 bottles, in 2002 to a peak of 55,747 boxes, or 668,964 bottles, last year, according to figures provided by the quasi-official Sopexa Taiwan (法國食品協會). That rep-resented an impressive annual growth of 270 percent, making Taiwan the second-largest market in Asia after Japan.

However, the rapid expansion in imports also gave rise to cutthroat competition as some retailers resorted to importing their own Beaujolais products, resulting in supply outpacing demand last year.

A wine dealer who declined to be named said some distributors still have stock from last year and have therefore drastically cut their import orders.

Drinks Wines & Spirits Co (橡木桶洋酒), the nation's largest retailer of imported wines and spirits, halved its import volume from last year's 12,000 boxes to around 6,000 boxes this year, according to president Roger Chen (陳春安).

"The Beaujolais market was damaged last year and needs to be restored," Chen said.

This year, Drinks Wines & Spirits has shifted its strategy to focus on quality vintages, Chen said, adding that the 6,000 boxes imported by the firm are all high-end Beaujolais, priced between NT$600 (US$18.3) and NT$1,500 per bottle.

Still, consumers making pre-paid orders can enjoy a 21 percent discount, he said.

The company is scheduled to throw an outdoor party in front of Pacific Sogo Department Store's (太平洋崇光百貨) Zhongxiao branch in Taipei on Wednesday night, where the public can drink the latest Beaujolais to their heart's content.

The biggest Beaujolais event the retailer has ever held will last for three hours, beginning at 10pm on Wednesday, with the celebratory uncorking taking place at midnight. It is aimed at heating up the atmosphere as some dealers worry about slow sales, according to Drinks Wines & Spirits.

Another retailer, Leading Brands Wines and Spirits Co (酩洋), also slashed its import volume by 40 percent this year to distribute only quality wines targeting the high-end market.

For budget-conscious consumers, more affordable products will still be sold at convenience stores and hypermarkets.

President Chain Store Corp (統一超商), the operator of the world's third-largest 7-Eleven franchise, said it has cooperated with Sanrio Co of Japan to launch a limited-edition of Hello Kitty-branded Beaujolais wines.

The niche-market strategy has worked well as 25,000 bottles -- with Japan's most famous cat printed on the bottle and exclusively designed wine glasses offered to the first 5,000 buyers -- have all been booked by mostly female custom-ers, President Chain Store's public relations official Amy Luan (欒美雲) said.

On the hypermarket front, retailers are keeping mum on what the lowest price would be given that transportation costs have increased 20 percent from a year ago, said Margery Ho (何默真), public relations official of RT-Mart (大潤發).

"Selling the vintages at under NT$200 a bottle would have incurred losses last year, let alone this year," Ho said.

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