Wine can be enjoyed in some unusual places! There is Subsix, a bar 19 feet below the surface of the Indian Ocean in the Maldives. The wine list offers some top Champagnes and Châteaux. Perhaps you would like to try your favourite vintage behind a secret door? Then The Study in The Modern Honolulu hotel in Hawaii might be just the venue, revealed each day at 6:00 p.m. when the hotel lobby’s bookshelves rotate.
Most of us, however, are just dreaming of such lavish spots when we enjoy our wine. Questions to why we drink wine and how we drink wine have many answers, but have you ever considered the importance of where we drink our wine? Surely relevant to those compiling marketing and sales strategies, but also an interesting reflection on different cultures.
In South Africa, the retail space is very powerful. Supermarkets can manipulate sales and even create their own brands. Combine the growth in the number of retail stores with a weakened economy and consumers staying at home or entertaining from home rather than frequenting restaurants, it is understandable that about 70% of local wine sales happen in the off-trade. Online wine sales in South Africa is growing slowly, but even in this case, purchases will often be through the online stores of bigger retail brands. Legislation around liquor licences for on-consumption as well as a growing consciousness about the dangers of drinking and driving also support the trend. Add to this, good weather, spacious backyards and our braai culture, it makes sense that we enjoy most of our wines at home.
Similarly, in China, on-consumption is also the smallest part of the wine business. But why would that be if one takes into account a culture of restaurant-entertaining combined with an increase in wine consumption and a definite change towards Western habits and lifestyle among young people?
Dining in China is about sharing. And while I am all for sharing, it is not great when it comes to wine pairing! Ordering your own plate of food makes finding a wine match easy. In culinary cultures where a table of different dishes are served, especially Asian cuisine with demanding flavour profiles, finding a matching wine is more than a challenge. As a result, the whole idea of pairing food and wine has not made much ground in China. Beer is an easy option in restaurants and with the habit of ganbei (bottoms-up), spirits also stand in the way of interesting wine lists.
So where does the Chinese get their wine from? The retail in China has never developed to the likes of Tesco in the UK or Checkers in South Africa. Supermarkets have been handicapped by the historic corner shop that purchases from wholesalers. No wonder then that online wine sales, offering a much bigger variety and easy comparison when it comes to price and quality, is growing at an astonishing rate. Already 49% of all imported wines in China is sold via online platforms. According to Tmall’s Mike Hu, “…80% of the wines sold on Tmall are for home consumption…” (Read more)
What makes this so interesting, however, is not really where the Chinese buy their wine, but where they drink it. Considering the above, one would think they drink their wine at home, but Chinese do not regularly entertain at home. Houses often have limited space and with the Chinese being quite private, friends and even families, get together in restaurants. With a strong BYO (bring-your-own) culture, protected by legislation, Chinese wine drinkers often buy wine online and then take it with them to the restaurant. So even though the Chinese do not buy their wine from restaurant wine lists, they do drink the wine in restaurants!
A great example of why understanding the market is so important when it comes to successful marketing!