Wine producers from Italy, losing market share to France, hope to penetrate China’s imbibing consumer market

By Zorikto Gomboin Source:Global Times Published: 2017/4/25 18:33:39

The "I Love Italian Wines" festival in Shanghai kicked off recently at Swissotel Grand Shanghai. The event was officially hosted by the Shanghai office of Italian Trade Agency and supported by a number of partners from local wine exporters and specialized media.

The festival included an Italian wine and spirits course training for Chinese consumers, which included theory classes on grape varieties, regions and classifications, as well as practice courses on wine tasting and wine-food pairing.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Italy's Consul General in Shanghai Stefano Beltrame stressed the importance of wine for Italian culture, pointing out the fact that Italian wine has "a history of more than 3,000 years."

A popular Italian adage says that it is sufficient to know which wine variety an Italian drinks to know which region he or she comes from. Visualizing this fact, Beltrame pointed to his fellow Italians. Italian wines are known worldwide for their abundance of grape varieties, with more than 440 different varieties grown in Italy. Indeed, knowledge of Italian wines is often described as "the pinnacle of wine art."

Italy is the world's top producer of wine. In 2015, Italy produced 4.95 million hectoliters of wine, accounting for 17.43 percent of global production. France comes in second with 4.75 million hectoliters and 16.73 percent. This competition is heating up, however, as according to Wine Institute statistics between 2013 and 2015 French wines saw a steady rise, with a change of 12.8 percent within three years while Italian wine production shrunk by 8.3 percent.

Italian wine enjoys only limited recognition from Chinese consumers. The country known for football, high fashion and delicacies is overshadowed on the Chinese market not only by the recognized wine export leader, France, but also by wines from Australia, Spain and Chile. As such, the Chinese market share by value for France accounts for 44 percent, Australia for 25 percent, and Chile for 10 percent. Italian grapes so far have only conquered a humble 5 percent.

Stefano Beltrame (middle), Consul General of Italy in Shanghai, at the opening ceremony of the "I Love Italian Wines" festival in Shanghai, which kicked off at Swissotel Grand Shanghai

Wine requires knowledge

According to Chinese customs import statistics for 2016, Italian wines have not improved in terms of market share, but nonetheless experienced a growth of 38 percent in value after Italy started to import more expensive wines into China. However, low market share still haunts the producers of Chianti and Valpolicella. With the prospects of China becoming the second largest wine market after the US by 2020, it is quite a lot of money to lose to competitors.

Claudio Pasqualucci, chief representative of the Italian Trade Agency's Shanghai office, commented on other problems met by the Italian wine producers, pointing out that Italian wine production is "highly decentralized" between small vineyard producers and, thus, it is "hard to make a big effort for the new market without a close coordination." He noted that the Italian government is ready to chip in and support new federations and organizations of Italian wine producers.

The complexity of Italian wines, while being a positive quality that allows the Italian winemakers a justified pride, has proven to be a problem as well. An "Italian invasion" into the Chinese market will require investment and dissemination of knowledge and education among local customers on the qualities and pairing of different grapes.

But it seems that, by emphasizing training and information sharing, especially among young Chinese adults, the Italian government and its country's wine producers are on the right track.

The speakers also pointed out that Italian wine producers have chosen a holistic approach toward the promotion of their wines in the Chinese market, with Beltrame noting that, for Italians, wine and food "form an inseparable union." He expressed a wish to promote this vision to Chinese consumers by aligning wine with the ubiquitous pasta, pizza and bruschetta.

The article was written by Zorikto Gomboin

Italian wines are known worldwide for their abundance of grape varieties, with more than 440 different varieties grown in Italy. Photos: CFP and Global Times

Newspaper headline: Italian invasion!


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