Some of the world’s top wine producers will attend Asia’s biggest wine fair in Hong Kong this week, eying new consumers in the booming, but still relatively untapped, Chinese market.
Organizers of the Vinexpo Asia-Pacific trade fair say the slowdown in Chinese economic growth, forecast to reach 7.5 percent this year compared with 9.2 percent last year, will not hurt demand for imported wine.
“If the economy reduces speed, they will not drink less. They might drink a little cheaper, but they won’t stop now that they have discovered wine,” Vinexpo chief executive Robert Beynat said. “Look at Japan. During the tsunami and nuclear crisis [last year] consumption didn’t decrease. You drink wine when you are happy and you drink wine when you are sad. And it’s a fashionable product.”
According to Vinexpo, China is the world’s biggest drinker of spirits, with 995 million cases guzzled in 2010 — almost double the volume consumed in 2006.
However, the growth of spirit consumption is expected to slow as wine — especially expensive French imports — becomes more popular as a gift or the drink of choice at banquets.
The average Chinese drinker still only consumes 1.3 liters of wine a year, compared with 2.4 liters in Japan and 50 liters in France.
“In terms of consumption volume in Asia, it’s grown 100 percent in the past five years. When you look at the per-capita consumption, there’s a bright future,” Beynat said.
French wines still rule the Chinese market, accounting for about 45 percent of imports in terms of value, double the share of second-placed Italy.
Beynat said the statistic was typical of an emerging wine market. Like the Americans decades before them, new wine drinkers in China want French wines, the more expensive the better to show off to their friends, he said.
The next challenge for the wine industry as a whole is to boost sales of more affordable wines, including locally produced vintages.
“That’s the challenge for the future, to explain to the Asians that there is good wine at every price,” Beynat said. “For the Chinese, an imported wine has to be expensive. As they don’t know wine, there’s an enormous effort in information and education. They are at the beginning.”
About 1,000 exhibitors are expected to attend the three-day expo at Hong Kong’s harborside convention center from tomorrow, the organizers said.
Thomas Jullien, the Bordeaux Wine Council’s Asia representative, who is based in the territory, said producers from his region in France would be strongly represented.
“After six years of steep growth, the China wine market has firmly positioned itself as the main export market for Bordeaux wines,” he said.
Chinese customers bought 58 million bottles of Bordeaux wines worth 334 million euros (US$420 million) last year, a 91 percent increase over the year before, he said.
Australian and New Zealand producers are also coming to Vinexpo in force, with a government-backed Australian pavilion expected to be one of the highlights.
“Asia continues to be an outstanding region for Australian winemakers, now representing approximately 20 percent of total value of exports globally,” said Lucy Anderson, Wine Australia’s Asia director.
China and Hong Kong represent the third-largest export market for Australian wine by value, at more than A$268 million (US$262 million), according to official figures.