Chinese consumers are familiar with Champagne – which is priced out of reach for many consumers - but have very little awareness of other less expensive options such as Cava and Prosecco.
However, the rise of inexpensive sparkling wines through both online and offline retail channels is making sparkling wine more affordable to young professionals.
Putting a sparkle in informal occasions
Sparkling wine consumption in China is a fraction of that of still wine: accounting for only 1% of sales. In most other markets, sparkling wine takes a share of around 10%.
China drinks around 1.5 million 9 liter cases of sparkling wine (while consuming 160 million cases of still wine), compared to Germany which consumers 45.5 million.
In China, sparkling wine is seen very much as a drink for celebrations and special occasions, with more expensive sparkling wine types such as Champagne out of reach for many young professionals.
However, Wine Intelligence predicts this could start to change as the market sees an increase in inexpensive sparkling wines – under 100 RMB ($16) – in both online and offline retail channels. Such options make sparkling wines more affordable to the average consumer.
“There should be a bright future for sparkling wine in China overall because it connects with the needs of the young generation who are moving away from the ‘ganbei’ or ‘bottoms up’ drinking culture,” said Chuan Zhou, research director, Wine Intelligence.
“Importers and retailers predict that the non-Champagne sparkling wines will soon lead to a breakthrough in coming years, due to the typically lower price and flavor being more suited to the Chinese palate – both of which allow consumers to enjoy it on informal and frequent occasions.”
The greatest potential comes from sparkling wines that are sweet enough to balance the high acidity in sparkling wine, and those that are slightly sparkling or have pronounced fruit flavors.
However, the challenge for those wishing to make the most of the category’s potential will be to educate consumers on the number of more affordable sparkling options available to them and help them learn to appreciate new varieties in new settings.
“Conveying the message that sparkling wine can be drunk at informal occasions such as gatherings with friends is crucial,” the report says.
Sparkling wine has seen notable growth in other markets thanks to the rise of more affordable alternatives. In the UK, for example, sparkling wine grew 80% between 2011/2012 and 2015/2016, thanks to increased consumer demand for Prosecco, Cava and English sparkling wines.
Sparkling wine consumers
An equal number of men and women drink sparkling wine in China, with 52% under 35 years old. Urban educated millennials, typically those who graduated from university over the past 10 years, are exploring beyond traditional varieties.
The majority of urban upper-middle class drinkers of sparkling wine are more likely to drink red wine, with 73% reporting they have drunk red wine in the past 12 months, compared to 29% who have drunk Champagne and 28% who have drunk Italian sparkling wine.
Source: Wine Intelligence Vinitrac China Sparkling survey