With China still the top target for the many in the international wine community 17 experts, led by Master of Wine Debra Meiburg, and around 100 members of the local and international wine community gathered in Shanghai to discuss and debate the current issues in the market, and project future trends.

Market evolution was one of the most talked about points when it comes to consumer dynamics in China. Dr. Justin Cohen, Ehrenberg-Bass Institute said, “Living in China is like living in dog years. One year in China is like seven years somewhere else!”

The panel discussed the effect of the Chinese Central Government’s anti-corruption campaign on the traditionally important “gifting” segment of the wine market. One panelist noted, “Gifting culture is deep-rooted in China.  At Chinese New Year, you have to give something, mostly wrapped in red. So post the anti-corruption campaign, people [are still gifting] but have gone more low key.  Instead of giving Louis Vuitton, they give Bottega Veneta…it might be just as valuable, but not so ‘in your face’.”

Cohen offered advice to winemakers on the gifting market as a sales strategy, “If you look at the frequency people buy wine for a special occasion in China, it is maybe one to two times per year. So if you have a non-luxury brand, then focusing on the gift giving market is not a good strategy.”

Chuan Zhou, research director at Wine Intelligence broke the demographics discussion down even further, identifying key traits of younger consumers, “When it comes to young people, there are two things to consider:  packaging and lower alcohol content.  Young people in China are moving away from the high alcohol drinking of their parents.”

They also touched on the question of Tier 1, 2 and 3 cities in China and how purchasing behaviour, information sources, and wine style preferences differ. 

Manohar Balivdada, executive director client strategy of The Silk Initiative added to the discussion on how people choose their wine. “If you look at the cues that Chinese consumers use, it is price, brand, availability.  In lower tier cities, people are willing to spend RMB1000, but it’s not available to them. Males might not appreciate the taste, but they’ll go for it because their friends have talked about it or they view it on social media.”

The importance of brands in China was stressed by the speakers during the Consumer Dynamics panel.   

Zhou said, “China is a brand market; Chinese love brands. They are much more important than country, region or varietal.  Most consumers prefer to choose a brand they know, they’ve tried before or recommended by friends and family.”

The other dominant topic when it comes to wine communications, sales and marketing in China is digital media.

Debra Meiburg MW said, “Digital media in China moves at such a rate, that it is baffling even to many in the region, let alone winemakers trying to keep up with WeChat, Weibo and beyond from their rolling vineyards thousands of miles away.”

Ian Dai, senior vendor manager -wine and spirits, Amazon China said, during the Digital Media panel, “Amazon is quite serious [about wine], so that’s why they hired me. My role is not only to select wines but develop the right atmosphere to attract consumers and deliver the wines to the door of the consumers.”                      

Always on the mind of sales and marketing professionals across many industries when it comes to digital media and the online sales environment are reviews and community discussion.

Oliver Zhou, managing director of Vinehoo.com said, “Peer reviews are crucial to our business success. We all know of scandals where other sites hide negative reviews. Peer reviews should be about engagement – a place where people can discuss our wines.” 

Finally, guests got the chance to meet and talk individually with some of the most influential sommeliers in China, at the Connecting with China’s F&B Trade session. Some of the themes that arose during the small group discussions included the increasing interest in white wine, maturation of wine consumers and how younger consumers are becoming increasingly important. They also touched on strategies for wine promotions and recommendations, and discussed the role of wine events in the mix, among a number of other points.