The upcoming ProWine China, the longest running international wine fair in China, will serve as a bell weather for what’s to come in the post-coronavirus wine market, as the organizer gears up to meet pent-up demand from the wine trade after a long lull.
Despite international travel restrictions and social distancing measures, the three-day wine fair scheduled for November 10-12 at Shanghai New International Expo Center (SNIEC) is among a handful of wine fairs that gets a go-ahead when virtually all other important wine fairs including Prowein Düsseldorf, Vinitaly and Vinexpo Hong Kong have been cancelled, due to the virus outbreak.
As preparations for the three-day trade fair are underway, this year’s 8th edition is expected to welcome more than 800 exhibitors from around the world and around the same number of high-caliber visitors as 2019 edition, ProWine China & Asia’s Project Director Josh Gu revealed in an interview with Vino Joy News.
Last year’s fair attracted 20,640 professional visitors, which is an increase of 9% from the last edition (2018: 18,936 visitors), according to data released by the organizer.
In full swing
A number of large wine trade organisations including Wine Australia, German Wine Institute, Wines of Austria, Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association and Wines of Portugal have already committed to the wine fair, Gu reveals, an encouraging sign that after months of lockdown the wine trade is ready to get back to business.
The exhibition in November this year is considered lucky, as it dodged a flurry of fairs that got cancelled due to the fast spreading of the virus. It’s also scheduled at a time when market depletion is largely expected and most merchants after months of lull are ready to place new orders for the coming year.
This means for many wine trade organisations and merchants, the fair will be the first major trade show to make direct contacts for business in mainland China, when many wine events and roadshows have all been cancelled this year due to the virus outbreak.
To attend this year’s ProWine China in Shanghai, however, is not without challenges, top of which are travel restrictions and 14-day mandatory quarantine.
Nonetheless, the organizer assures that the wine fair has prepared sound contingency plans and support system to accommodate and help incoming exhibitors and visitors. “Under the current complicated situations, our contingency plans have earned our clients’ trust and understanding. We provide full support in dealing with international travel restrictions, travel bans, mandatory quarantine, logistics, booth setup, hotel booking and among others,” Gu says in detail, adding a complete ProWine guide on virus prevention will also be launched soon for all exhibitors and visitors.
A key challenge to test all wine fair organizers this year is how to ensure fairground safety measures with threat of infection and outbreak.
When asked about safety measures, Gu detailed what he calls “proactive” and “detailed” measures that included using health code app for contact tracing, disposable spittoon and expanded fair space to avoid overcrowding.
“We will expand hallways inside the exhibition center to avoid congestion. The seminar area will also be expanded to ensure air circulation. One-time disposable spittoon will be provided inside the seminar area to avoid cross-usage and potential contamination. All the spittoons on site at the fair will be replaced by disposable ones,” Gu explained.
Colored-coded health app
In addition to closely following health guidelines laid out by Shanghai government and SNIEC exhibition center, and increasing frequency of disinfecting public space inside the wine fair, the tech-savvy organizer is tapping into technology for contact tracing and screening, a method used nationwide in the country to monitor and track coronavirus risks.
According to Gu, a health code system for local visitors in Shanghai and rest of China will be used for the wine fair, where people from high-risk areas will be flagged and prohibited from the show. For overseas visitors and exhibitors, a similar color-coded tracking system will be used as well to help identify if the user has been to high risk areas in other parts of China or overseas.
The app, which can be downloaded on smartphones, will be able to issue users with a colored health code — green, yellow, or red — which indicate their health status. A green means the user is safe and can travel freely, while a red or yellow means that the user might have been to high-risk zones, or in contact with infected patients or displays infected symptoms.
Gu says the precise prevention method also requires event organizers to be more organized, nimble and adaptable under the ‘new normal’. This year, the fair is also expanding its digital presence to support off-line show, he adds.
“Don’t let the market forget about you”
With coronavirus, global recession and diminished market demand, most wineries have dialed back on spending in challenging times. Gu, however, believes with lessened competition and market reshuffle, growth is feasible.
“Personally, I think this is a prime time for wineries to promote the wines through winery history, culture and terroir. This can now be done online. It’s a great time to solidify your foundation,” he urges.
The last quarter of the year is also the time when most importers and sommeliers in China believe when the market will return to pre-Covid level. Stocks are expected to be depleted by then while new orders for next Chinese New Year are to be placed.
“What’s more, competition during this period of time is relatively weak as the whole industry is going through reshuffles. If you can invest more resources and time into the market now, then your return will be expected. Don’t let the market forget about you because of the pandemic, he appealed.
Asked if he is convinced that China is still on track to become the world’s second biggest wine market despite current setbacks, he replied resolutely.
“The answer is undoubtedly yes. Consumers’ understanding of wine is changing too. They probably used to see it as a gift, but more and more often wine is seen as a consumer drinks beverage to be drunk and enjoyed. Meanwhile, domestic wine production is also improving. This will help lift the whole wine industry and consumption,” he says.
More information on the fair can be found here.