In this series of articles we will review the Chinese wine market from different angles (trends, consumers, import, distribution...) starting general and going into detail.
The Chinese wine market has been witnessing a steady decrease in all indicators – consumption, imports and domestic production. The trend had begun before the COVID-19 pandemic but was certainly exacerbated by it. China also remains a difficult market, especially due to the competition with wine exporters from other countries, some of which enjoy preferential trade agreements. Nonetheless, China remains a large market, highly relevant for EU wine exporters. Wine culture in the country has kept growing significantly and will continue to do so.
Trends are led by youth :
China is the world’s eighth largest consumer of wine, accounting for 4% of the global wine consumption.
Overall, still red wine remains the preferred variety. Interest in white wines and sparkling wines is growing significantly, particularly among young consumers and women.
Consumption levels are the highest in the country’s top cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou; consequently, the wine markets in these cities are the most competitive and difficult to penetrate. Therefore, other cities (e.g. “new tier-one cities” or tier-two cities) may present certain advantages.
Finally, wine consumption is largely driven by Chinese millennials and Gen Z, although even within these groups there are certain differences such as the growing importance of young female consumers.
Main drivers & trends in the Chinese wine market:
• Wine is largely recognised as a healthier alcoholic beverage compared to others, such as liquors (especially baijiu) or even beer.
• There is growing investment in wine production from Chinese companies, both private and state-owned, in some cases even hiring directly foreign experts. Foreign wine producers are becoming increasingly involved in marketing and promotion activities in China.
• Although there are still strong associations with wine as an “image product” to show one’s cultural level and social status, it is slowly emerging as a product for ordinary household consumption. This trend, which was pushed forward by the pandemic, will further expand the market, especially for more price-friendly wines.
• Interest in tasting and learning activities has been growing significantly in China, in general for many F&B categories but especially for wine. Workshops on the pairing of imported wine and Chinese domestic food are very frequent nowadays in Chinese cities, combining promotion and direct sales.
• A growing number of Chinese consumers, especially younger, are more exposed to direct contact with wine, either in China (e.g. in international restaurants and hotels) or abroad, considering the resuming of outbound tourism from China and those who have lived in foreign countries for some time.
Finally, although the Chinese economy is struggling to recover after the COVID-19 pandemic, with consumer confidence hitting low numbers, disposable incomes continue growing, albeit on a smaller percentage and from a smaller base. The recovery of China’s strongly-hit dining industry in 2023 may contribute to the stabilisation of wine consumption after the decline in past years.
In the next article, we will see how heterogeneous the Chinese market is, thus, what are the different consumer groups.