China’s state-owned foodstuff conglomerate COFCO has allegedly made important leadership changes for its wine importing business which saw the departure of its longtime general manager Castle Li, according to Chinese media reports.

COFCO has yet to make the official announcement but reports from Chinese trade media claimed to have confirmed the news.

According to the reports, Li will still retain his two other roles within the company as general manager of COFCO’s own winery, GreatWall, and deputy general manager of COFCO Alcoholic Drinks Department, which oversees COFCO’s own domestic wine, Baijiu brands and alcoholic beverage importing business.

Li will be succeeded by Jiao Guoqiang, who previously was in charge of COFCO’s yellow wine (黄酒) business, a sherry-like Chinese wine.

If true, this would be a major personnel change in China’s imported wine business, as the country’s biggest wine importer by volume makes a key change of guards in 2019, which is largely believed to be a more challenging time for wine importing business in mainland China with slowing economy and depreciated RMB.

A graduate of China’s elite Peking University, Li worked his way up in COFCO and was appointed general manager of the then newly created COFCO Wine & Wine in 2014 to head the group’s imported wine and spirits business.

Since 2014, COFCO Wine & Wine has grown to be China’s biggest wine importer by volume, according to Li when previously interviewed by Wang, adding that COFCO Wine & Wine overtook ASC Fine Wines as the country’s biggest importer by volume in 2017 with 10 million bottles imported.

COFCO Wine & Wine is also the country’s biggest Bordeaux En Primeur buyer.

In 2018, according to Jiuyejia, the company imported RMB 1 billion (US$145 million) worth of wines, up by 50%, a slower growth rate for the company as its past growth in 2017 was over 120%,  revealed by Li.

The growth nonetheless would be impressive if confirmed, as the country suffered volume drop in wine imports last year when the value stayed more or less the same as 2017.

COFCO Wine & Wine is said to have a network of 400 shops across China.

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