Alcoholic drinks have always been considered a part of a consumer’s lifestyle statement in China. Indeed, according to Mintel’s Spirits China 2013 report, nearly two in three Chinese spirits drinkers say that the spirits they drink can reflect their social status. And it appears that this trend is particularly true in the wine category. This is highlighted by the data in Mintel’s Wine China 2014 report that around four in five wine drinkers agree that drinking wine can better reflect their taste compared with other types of alcoholic drinks.

Naturally, operators in the wine industry wonder what they could do to utilise such overwhelmingly favourable perceptions towards wine. Some have launched subscription based wine club services, in the hope of appealing to consumers by highlighting the modern and luxurious lifestyles behind such offerings. For example, Signature Wine Club, the first independent subscription service in China. The club provides three different bottles of expert-selected wine from the globe each month.

Will wine become part the Chinese lifestyle?

These club or membership services certainly show the potential the segment holds in China. This is particularly the case for those Chinese drinkers who, according to Mintel’s On-trade Alcoholic Drinks China 2015 report, are keen to try new types and flavours of drinks. However the low drinking frequency of wine in general poses a barrier. A huge gap remains between willingness to try and regular consumption of wine. Consequently, associating lifestyle with such services based on regular consumption or drinking of wine might be too early to prevail in the Chinese wine market.

Food pairing: A way to promote wine?

Clearly brands need to think beyond drinking and towards lifestyle when it comes to promoting wine. Owing to the fact that 91% of Chinese drinkers have drunk alcoholic beverages when dining out, targeting food pairing is a logical step. Products such as the Wa wine from Jacob’s Creek, which is launched in Japan in 2013, is certainly inspiring and it shows how to associate wine with traditional local cuisines. Mintel’s On-trade alcoholic drinks China 2014 report corroborates the concept of promoting food pairing in the alcoholic drink market; with nearly three quarters of out-of-home drinkers agreeing that the type of alcoholic drink served with food is important.

Wine innovation: Moving outside the comfort zone

Food pairing is certainly showing potential but it is notable that the nature of wine as a primarily ‘at-home drink’ could still limit the efficacy of such food pairing efforts. Perhaps, brands ought to be brave enough to get outside their comfort zone. How about have some wine based jams or even serving consumers’ a wine based bath? La Mancha Saludable, a specialist from Spain has got it all – from jams to bath salts all made from wine. It pushes category blurring into a new level by blending wine into consumers’ daily life.

What we think

Such ideas may sound unrealistic at the first sight but they could make a big difference by opening the gate to a much wider audience. By extending into household categories with the assistance of brand communication with lifestyle at heart, such products can transfer consumers positive perceptions of wine into these target categories, and at the same time avoid the barriers faced by wine in the food and drink service markets. More importantly, wine operators can also enjoy a potential reciprocal effect, where the extended products can improve the image of wine in its parent (alcoholic drink) category, and as a result, improve the level of acceptance of wine drinking.

David Zhang, Senior Drinks Analyst at Mintel, joined as a research analyst in 2013, specialising in researching and writing China reports. Before joining Mintel, David worked at Incisive Media as an industry researcher and also produced training courses for Risk and Central Banking Publication magazines. He has published research papers in Advances of Consumer Research and he is a regular contributor to academic conferences including the academy of marketing science annual conference.

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