Champagne: ‘gearing up’ in Greater China

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Champagne needs to boost its presence in Greater China with online retailers and new educational initiatives, though the region remains cautious about protecting its name online, said head of the official trade body.

champagne bottles, credit Decanter
Image: champagne bottles, credit Decanter

Through a period of correction

The mainland China market has been through a ‘period of correction’ for Champagne due to the government’s anti-corruption drive, overstocking of wine in the market and too many intermediaries in the distribution chain, said Vincent Perrin, General Director of Comité Champagne (CIVC).

Though the total import volume is still showing a slight decrease, ‘there are signs showing that the market is growing again,’ Perrin told DecanterChina.com during Vinexpo Hong Kong.

1.6m bottles of Champagne are currently sold in HK, 1.3m bottles are sold in Mainland China and 470,000 bottles are sold in Taiwan. The sum of these means that ‘Greater China is now one of the top 10 markets for Champagne’, said the official.

Going digital with a ‘pre-condition’

The fast developing digital channels including WeChat and online shops are bringing new solutions to the sales of Champagne in mainland China.

The CIVC is now working directly with online retailers including Alibaba and JD.com, according to the trade body.

Image: Vincent Perrin, head of Comite Champagne, credit CIVC
Image: Vincent Perrin, head of Comite Champagne, credit CIVC

By working directly with online platforms, Champagne producers don’t need to go through as many intermediaries as before to reach the consumers, Perrin said.

However, the cooperation has a ‘pre-condition’, said Perrin. ‘They (online distributors) have to respect the Champagne name’.

The official body has been striving to protect its trade mark in China. In 2013, the region was one of the first foreign wine regions to be granted with geographic indication (GI) status in China, Wang Wei, representative of the Comité Champagne's China office, told DecanterChina.com in a previous interview.

The non-specialist online shops are yet to adapt their search engines to wine sales, this is an issue concerns the trade body more than counterfeits, said Perrin.

He gave an example that if a consumer search for Champagne, he may end up finding a mobile case with Champagne colour. ‘We need to make sure they take account of wine appellations.’

Tap into the ‘education fever’

The level of communication supported by digital channels ‘gives us the baselines for (the sales of) our sophisticated wines’, as more knowledge is involved for consumer to appreciate these wines, said Perrin.

Last year the CIVC launched the online education site and app ‘Champagne Campus’ in both Chinese and English.

‘We need to reach 10 times as many people as we can offline,’ said Perrin.

Offline-wise, the CIVC intends to launch more educational initiatives which include working with the key wine educators in China to offer more ‘shared’ tasting experiences.

It also plans to convert its existing ‘European Champagne Ambassador’ competition to a global event in 2017, with an emphasis on Asia, especially China.

‘We need to build on the good foundation and gear up in China,’ said Perrin.

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