China Overtakes France to Become Largest Consumer of Red Wine

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SHANGHAI – China’s overall consumption of red wine has reached 1.865 billion bottles per year, overtaking France to become the largest consumer of red wine globally, according to figures released last week. The numbers come from a study commissioned by wine and spirits trade association Vinexpo, and carried out by the independent London-based research firm, International Wine & Spirit Research.

Consumption of red wine in China (including the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region) grew by 136 percent over five years to reach 155 million nine-liter cases, while consumption in France dropped 18 percent to 150 million cases over that same period.  Slipping to third place, Italy’s consumption also dropped by 5.8 percent over that period to 141 million cases.

The increase in Chinese consumption can be attributed primarily to China’s large population of 1.3 billion and its growing affluence, as its per capita consumption still lags far behind the European countries at only 1.5 liters (two standard bottles) per person in 2013.  The French, in contrast, drank more than a bottle a week each, with a whopping 51.9 liter per capita average.

Moreover, the U.S. remains the world’s top wine consumer overall, with an expected consumption of 385 million cases by 2017.  China only reached fifth place in overall wine consumption in 2012, and that ranking is not expected to move anytime soon.

The Chinese display a strong bias towards red wine.  Apart from red wine’s purported health benefits, such as reducing the risk of heart disease and heart attacks, there is a more unique cultural reason underlying the Chinese’s preference.

“Red is a very positive color in Chinese culture and is synonymous with wealth, power and luck. In the business world these three values are fundamental, therefore red wine is often found in banquets to seal partnerships. And red is also the color of China,” explained Guillaume Deglise, CEO of Vinexpo.

White, however, is the color of death in China. “So you don’t want to drink white, why would you?” asked Deglise.  Nevertheless, white wine consumption in China is also growing, albeit at a slower pace.  Vinexpo’s figures showed that white wines accounted for only 8 percent of consumption in 2011, though this figure is expected to grow over the next few years.  Deglise also indicated that consumption of champagne would likely increase as the market matured.

The majority (80 percent) of wines consumed in China are also domestically produced, and with domestic consumption driving its wine industry, China is expected to become the world’s largest wine producer in five years.

There is still good news for wine importers, however:  imported wines have risen sevenfold over the last 6 years and their share of the market has increased significantly to 19 percent.  Almost one in five bottles of wine consumed in China is now imported.

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Worldwide consumption of wine is predicted to continue growing, with an increase of nearly 5 percent in the period leading up to 2017.  Asia’s consumption will drive this increase followed by the U.S.  European consumption is likely to remain stable, possibly decreasing slightly.

The study’s findings were released in the lead-up to the Vinexpo Asia-Pacific wine and spirits exhibition, to be held in Hong Kong on 27-29 May.  Over 18,000 wine buyers and importers will attend the event, which will feature 1,300 exhibitors from 28 countries.

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