Wine Market and Education Promotion in China

Due to the great potential and rapid growth of China’s wine market, the past decade has witnessed the attention and participation from most wine producing countries worldwide. Much investment has flown into the market. However, in 2012 the Chinese government has adopted the policy of restricting three public consumptions (oversea trips, vehicles and banquets). Furthermore, sluggish economic growth and rash investment in the sector has made conducting business in China’s wine market a bleaker landscape more challenging. Wine imports have decreased by 4.46% (YOY) in 2013 and by 12.8% (YOY) in the first half of 2014.

Official and corporate consumption used to be the bulk of Chinese wine sales. Corporate purchases, gift-giving and dinners occupied the lion’s share of the market. By restricting three public consumptions combined with a stagnating economy, the relevant market share shrank dramatically. Individual consumption has become the focus of the market. The market changed unexpectedly and eventually experienced a hard landing. During the change, many dealers suffered greatly as they relied heavily on corporate or official consumption. Sales dropped remarkably and some dealers even retreated from the Chinese market. Nevertheless, the outlook for the industry is mixed. In short term, the drastic changes will unsettle dealers, but in the long run the industry's hard landing and the value return will contribute to a healthy contraction and eventually higher quality standards of the Chinese wine industry. 

As for individual consumption and the market orientation for value return, some witty entrepreneurs have acted swiftly. Over the past year, they have flexibly readjusted the pricing and sales strategies to cater for personal consumption. On the other hand, they have improved marketing strategies and taken measures to explore the market against the bleak backdrop. They, in particular, have devoted much effort in education campaigns by cultivating regular customers and newcomers, creating demand and exploring new fields of consumption. Leading wine import businesses like ASC, Aussina World Wines, yesmywine.com and Vats Liquor have put much effort into capacity building in their education teams or marketing departments. They have initiatively cooperated with others to conduct standard systematic courses, different courses on wine regions and various master courses. Their efforts pay off in the promotion of enterprises and brands and customer development.

Although the wine market's outlook seems to be grim in terms of imports and exports as a whole, the market is becoming more rational. The stockpile out of indiscriminate purchase is being consumed this year, as we can see from a lot of leftover stock or bargains. Actually, personal consumption has increased obviously, which can be seen by soaring e-commerce sales. On the other hand, the burgeoning growth of the wine education market manifests this trend. Master courses and courses on wine regions are on the rise. There are participants of wine systematic courses. Take WSET course from Britain as an example. After the past decade’s growth, especially for the last 2-3 years, their student numbers have increased rapidly. Nowadays, China is one of the largest providers for WSET students. Due to the strong demand, sites of lecturing are on the rise.

Meanwhile, oversea wine producers are trying to break bottleneck in an effort to pursue larger market shares in China. Among their efforts, official courses on winegrowing regions and master courses lectured by international wine masters are effective in practice. France and Australia, top sellers in the Chinese market, are two leading promoters for courses on wine regions.

France found its way into China in the late 1990s. As a pioneer of introducing courses  on wine growing regions, France has initiated accreditation of lecturers of the Bordeaux Wine School and introduced official courses in 2007. Professionals with industrial influence have turned to be official lecturers-promotion ambassadors. Dozens of those official lecturers are required to offer training programs of certain amount. In that way, they pass on their expertise on wine growing regions to industry players and wine fans across the country. This mode is copied by other wine growing regions. Australia’s A+ course of wine growing regions is the most successful one. Powered by more lecturers’ support and incentives, Australia’s A+ course of wine regions caught up with their Bordeaux counterpart within a short period of time, eventually even surpassing the latter. Australia’s efforts pay off in the market. Besides, wine growing regions or vineyards can offer master courses and organize tasting parties by influential exhibitions or cooperation with local education institutions. They can select particular approaches (like wine lecturers, the media and consumption opinion leaders) to yield favorable results, like the wine courses in the upcoming ProWine China.

China’s wine market is currently in a turmoil. Nevertheless, there are signs of great potential and burgeoning growth. One of the major driving forces is wine education for consumers and industry players. Wine education will make the market more rational and healthier and will also offer more business opportunities.

- LU Jiang, WineSchool China -