Selling Imported Wine to the Chinese Consumer

China is changing fast, and the way Chinese consumer is approaching wine consumption seems to be evolving too. Ruby Red Fine Wine is successfully bringing imported boutique wines and reputed premium brand names to the Chinese tables. This post captures consumer insights from an interview to New Zealand entrepreneur Kylie Bisman whom, together with partners Simon Zhou, Joe Zhou and Vivian Wang, set up Ruby Red Fine Wine at the end of 2005.

Consumption Patterns are Changing.
We came to China at a very exciting time when suddenly wine started sparkling interest. People begun to realize that you could enjoy in wine these wonderful tastes and aromas, that wine could go really well with different types of food and that you could really make it a sociable occasion.

We are Mainly Selling to the Chinese Consumer, not to the Expat Community.
The majority of our customers are Chinese people interested in wine. Some of them already know about wine, but there are a lot of others who really want to learn about it. There’s a big interest out there.

Shanghai is different from the rest if China.
Our business in based in Shanghai but we also cover 40 other cities through distributors. I must say Shanghai consumer is definitely different from the rest of China. They are a little bit more adventurous and inquisitive, and that’s probably why a boutique wine type of business like ours is working so well here.

… but not that different!
Having said that, there is still quite a difference between the consumption patterns of our Chinese and Expat clientele. Chinese consumers tend to ask for two things: French wine and red wine. So, although our Shanghai consumers are willing to try new things, they are still more likely to go for French red wines. Our expat consumers may, on the other hand, be more likely to go for New World wines (unless they’re French!) and will include white wines in their selection.

The keys to our success selling to Chinese consumers:
#1 Education, Education, Education!
We’ve run thousands of tasting events since we started. Some of those run publicly and are announced in our website, but we also run a lot of corporate events for Chinese companies (banks, technology companies, companies that see wine tastings as a nice team building exercise with a fun and educational twist for their staff). Afterwards, we keep in touch with these people. We email our offers and news updates to them.
Now we are starting to see the fruits of our educational activity when people come to us saying: what new stuff have you got? They want to know more. They want to try new things, new flavours, new wine regions…it’s such an exciting time to be here… we feel we are helping to influence the palate of the Chinese consumer.

#2 Having the right portfolio.
At the beginning we would buy exclusively what we liked, focusing only on small production boutique wineries from New Zealand, Australia, France and Spain. We quickly learnt how tough taking an unknown brand is and we obviously realized there was a huge demand for the premium well established brands. So in addition to our boutique winery portfolio, we now have become Burgundy specialist and we have a very good offering of Bordeaux wines.  We also offer a feature available through very few companies in China, the possibility of purchasing “Bordeaux en primeur wine” (1).
Ultimately, the most important thing for us is quality.

(1) En primeur is a method of purchasing wines while they are in a barrel, offering the opportunity to invest in a particular wine before it is bottled

4 comments

  1. At the last Food and Wine Exhibition in Shanghai I noticed how Italy and France were absolutely salivating at the prospect of import wine-drinking going mainstream in China. I wonder how long that will take, and how much penetration they will get. It’s not easy to predict the behaviour of the Chinese consumer. Fascinating to try though.

  2. It might be due to the large population and growing economy of China. its not only Italy and France but Australian Wines are taking market in China. Australian wines are reasonable in price and good quality comparing to French & Italian wines.

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