China’s wine imports seem to be slowly gaining momentum as declines ease, in an early sign that demand is picking up, a year after the pandemic.
The country’s wine imports in the months of January and February increased by 0.2% in volume compared with the same period last year, based on data released by Chinese research firm ASKCI, a much-needed growth after last year’s volume slumped by 28.8%.
Import value stood up US$3.15 million, down by 9.7%, a more moderate decline compared with 2020’s double-digit downward spiral of 19.9%.
The ease came as on-trade business at restaurants and bars has returned to normal in the country, after restrictions on business hours and public gatherings have been lifted, as the country now focuses on vaccination drive to inoculate over 560 million people with Covid-19 vaccinations by June.
Chinese New Year in February also helped boost local wine demand on-trade and off-trade, which is the busiest time for wine sales.
“The Chinese market now feels completely back to normal. There are some instances where a few Covid-19 cases have been identified locally, but overall wine fairs are back to normal and restaurants are buzzing,” Alberto Fernandez, managing partner of Torres China, told Wine Intelligence.
“Restrictions of travel according to him also boosted luxury spending from wealthy Chinese domestically. “The lack of international visitors has a smaller impact for us as it represents only a small share of business here. In fact, this has been compensated for by wealthy Chinese consumers spending their money locally instead of in Tokyo or Paris, for example. Luxury brands are also performing well in China this year too due to this increased spend by Chinese consumers within the country, coupled with a reduction in counterfeits and smuggling. Chinese consumers are back to consuming wine in restaurants and enjoying their celebrations,” he added.
However, some caution that the eased decline was based off on a year when wine imports were decimated by the pandemic.
In the first two months of 2020 at the beginning of the Covid outbreak, wine imports dropped 30.1% in volume and 25.4% in value over the same period in 2019. The decline recorded in the first two months of this year is thus based off on a low comparison base.
In the following months of strict lockdown, the country’s wine imports plummeted due to soft demand amid closure of restaurants, bars and nightclubs.
As a result, in 2020, China’s total wine imports dropped by 19.9% to US$2.8 billion over 2019, based on ASKCI data.