You’d think with China’s coveting of Western brands, there’d be enormous demand for champagne, the poster child for luxury foodstuffs, but not so. Despite the insatiable craving for Bourdeaux and other wines, champagne remains off Chinese consumer radar, with Shanghai boasting the only sizable market. China Daily reports:
“Compared with red wine, the acceptance of champagne is still limited,” said Wang Wei, director of the Comit Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) in China. CIVC is the trade organization of champagne in France that oversees the global champagne market. One of CIVC’s missions in China is to promote champagne and tell the story behind it to the Chinese.
Currently, the annual output of champagne is about 300 million bottles, of which 150 million bottles are sold globally. Only 1.3 million bottles of champagne were sold in China in 2011, an increase from the 300,000 sold in 2006. Wang said about half the demand for the drink came from Shanghai.
Officially introduced to the Chinese market in 2006, the demand for champagne is increasing gradually. However, market awareness is far below red wine. Most Chinese know Lafite is one of the most expensive red wines in the world but not many people can name the best champagne in the world.
Figures from consulting firm Euromonitor show that a total of 1.3 billion liters of red wine were consumed in China in 2011. In comparison, champagne consumption was only 900,000 liters in 2011.
There are many speculations as to why champagne isn’t making a splash in the Chinese market, but the overriding argument is that champagne doesn’t appeal to Chinese culture and taste buds. One man who served champagne at his wedding claimed it’s because the elderly aren’t too fond of that “cold wine with bubbles.”
Others feel that since champagne is traditionally a pre-dinner drink in Western countries and Chinese normally consume alcohol during the course of a meal, they’ve found wine easier to adopt into the culture than champagne. Currently champagne is most popular at bars and clubs, of which Shanghai boasts quite a few.
Many Chinese perceive champagne as a “girl’s drink,” although the same view of coffee didn’t prevent Starbucks from taking the Chinese consumer base by storm by adapting many of its drinks to Chinese taste. According to market insiders, champagne producers may have to do the same through adding syrup to champagne to lower the acid content, and other measures.
It’s clearly not an issue of champagne being a big enough brand name, something German wine producers attribute to German wine’s struggles in the Chinese market compared to French wine’s. And in the case of German wine, lack of interest is probably also related to Chinese taste rather than just Chinese brand consciousness.
Benjamin Cost is Shanghaiist’s Food Editor. Email tips, recommendations, and news updates on Shanghai’s dining scene to [email protected].