With a population of over 1.4 billion people and a burgeoning middle class, China presents an exceptional opportunity for businesses in the alcohol industry. The landscape of the Chinese alcoholic beverage market has been rapidly evolving, driven by changing consumer preferences and increasing demand for diverse and high-quality products.
In 2022 the total revenue was 319.9 billion USD and is expected to reach 385.6 billion USD by the end of 2027. To tap into this immense potential, foreign businesses must navigate the unique dynamics of the Chinese market and tailor their strategies accordingly.
In this comprehensive guide, we explore the key insights derived from analyzing the revenue changes in the Wine, Spirits, and Beer segments in China. Drawing from this data, we delve into the strategies and considerations that can empower businesses to successfully enter and thrive in this lucrative market.
The Chinese Alcohol Market
The alcoholic market in China has undergone significant transformations in recent years, driven by evolving consumer preferences, rising disposable incomes, and a growing middle class. Traditionally, spirits like Baijiu held a dominant position in the market, but there has been a notable shift towards other beverages such as Wine, Spirits, and even newer entries like Hard Seltzer.
The robust growth rates observed in Wine, Spirits, and Hard Seltzer indicate a diversification of consumer tastes and increasing demand for a broader range of alcoholic options. The wine segment, for instance, is expected a substantial revenue increase of 45.15% from 2014 to 2027, reflecting a growing appreciation for wine culture and expanding consumer base.
Similarly, the Spirits segment demonstrated consistent revenue growth, showcasing a 23.44% increase. This trend signifies a growing demand for premium spirits, including imported brands, as Chinese consumers seek higher-quality and more diverse drinking experiences.
The emergence of Hard Seltzer as a rising star in the Chinese market further reflects the adaptability of consumers and their growing alcohol consumption. With revenue reaching 2.09 billion USD in just three years, Hard Seltzer has disrupted the market and presents a significant growth opportunity for both domestic and foreign beverage companies.
Alcoholic Drinks in China
As of 2022, the revenues from the alcoholic drinks market amounted to US$319,900 million and are expected to grow annually by 3.66% in 2027. Now in terms of sales, the largest segment is spirit drinks, with a market volume of US$156.70 billion as of 2022.
Then, if we compare the consumption to the population, we can say that per capita alcohol consumption amounted to US$178.90. The alcohol drinks market includes all alcoholic beverages resulting from fermentation or distillation. It is then further divided into 5 main segments which are: beer, spirits, hard selzer, wine and cider, perry, and rice wine.
The Chinese Beer Market
As mentioned earlier, beer sales revenues increased by 34% on a yearly basis, making it one of the most consumed alcoholic beverages in China, displaying its prominence worldwide during the early 1980s. China is the first beer producer and consumer in the world, with around 25% of the world’s production. The production is mainly for the local demand with some beers such as Tsingtao, Snow, or Harbin.
In fact, China is also the leading producer of beer in terms of production volume, with approximately 35.7 billion liters as of 2022.
Made from malted cereal grains, hops, and water, beer is appreciated by Chinese consumers for its strong yet tasty flavor and its low alcohol content which is around 5%. It is also important for you to know that millennials are the main amateurs of beer, as 91% of them are often drinking beer.
Their favorite beers are white beers, yellow beers, and dark beers. Now if we look at the most popular country exporting beer in China, Germany leads the way with 52% of the market share. However, one of the most popular brands of beer is a domestic one: Tsingtao (青岛).
And, it is also important to underline that imported craft beer has shown substantial growth in recent years.
Spirits Market in China
China is one of the world’s biggest spirits consumers, and its appetite for imported spirits remains insatiable. Considered a strong alcohol (20 vol% to 50 vol%), spirits, or distilled liquor includes Vodka, Whisky, Rum, Brandy, Gin, and other liqueurs such as the famous Chinese specialty: the Baijiu.
As a traditional Chinese liquor, Baijiu is said to be the most consumed spirit in the world. It is highly appreciated during traditional occasions such as holidays, weddings, and other formal events.
Now, according to a survey conducted among Chinese Douyin users in March 2021, whisky is the most popular foreign spirit among Chinese alcohol consumers, with 18% of them regularly purchasing it. Then, brandy and vodka are also quite popular among Chinese consumers.
According to taosj.com, seven kinds of spirits are on sale on e-commerce platforms such as Taobao and Tmall: Chinese Baijiu, Whisky, Vodka, Rum, Brandy, Gin, and Tequilla.
The Spirits segment in the Chinese alcoholic market demonstrated remarkable revenue growth from 2014 to 2022. During this period, the revenue increased by 34.80 billion USD, representing a significant growth rate of 23.54%. This substantial growth highlights the popularity and demand for spirits among Chinese consumers.
Looking ahead, the projected annual growth rate for the Spirits segment from 2022 to 2027 is estimated to be approximately 3.28%. This suggests a continued positive trend and indicates the potential for sustained growth in the coming years.
Hard Seltzer Market in China
The Hard Seltzer segment in the Chinese alcoholic market experienced a notable revenue change from 2019 to 2022, with an increase of 1.07 billion USD. This growth signifies the rising popularity and demand for Hard Seltzer among Chinese consumers during that period.
Looking ahead, the projected annual growth rate for the Hard Seltzer segment from 2022 to 2027 is estimated to be approximately 52.78%. This projection indicates a rapid and substantial expansion in the segment, showcasing its strong potential for future growth.
The high projected growth rate underscores the evolving consumer preferences in China, with an increasing demand for refreshing and low-alcohol beverages. Hard Seltzer, with its light and flavorful profile, has gained popularity as a trendy alternative to traditional alcoholic beverages.
China Wines Market and Consumption
The Wine segment in the Chinese alcoholic market has witnessed substantial revenue growth from 2014 to 2022. During this period, the revenue increased by 8.89 billion USD, representing a significant growth rate of 40.68%. This growth highlights the rising popularity and demand for wine among Chinese consumers.
Looking ahead, the projected annual growth rate for the Wine segment from 2022 to 2027 is estimated to be approximately 3.66%. This indicates a continued positive trend and suggests the potential for steady growth in the coming years.
Over the years, wine has always been one of the most popular foreign alcoholic beverages in China. Wine includes all fermented juices generated from grapes but excludes fruit wines like cider that are part of another category.
Red wine is by far the most popular type of wine among Chinese consumers. Around 80% of all the wine consumed in China is red. Then, approximately 20% of the imported wine in China is bulk wine, with the remainder being bottled wine.
In fact, Chinese consumers tend to do wine research and purchase online, on popular e-commerce platforms such as JD.com, Taobao, and Tmall. Wine fairs are also quite popular in China, allowing brands to directly convince consumers to buy their products.
But, due to its popularity, many foreign brands have already entered the Chinese market, resulting in tough competition between wine importers. Thus, if you want to sell your wine in China, you will have to stand amongst your competitors thanks to your creativity and popularity (on social media for example) and mostly by being customer-oriented.
Cider, Perry, and Rice Wine Growing in Popularity in China
The Cider, Perry & Rice Wine segment in the Chinese alcoholic market has experienced positive revenue growth from 2014 to 2022. Over this period, the revenue increased by 2.35 billion USD, representing a growth rate of 15.58%. This growth indicates a growing demand and consumer interest in these specific beverage categories.
Looking ahead, the projected annual growth rate for the Cider, Perry & Rice Wine segment from 2022 to 2027 is estimated to be approximately 2.02%. This suggests a steady and modest growth trend in the coming years.
Now, if we look at the cider, perry, and rice wine segment, it includes a wide array of alcoholic beverages that are produced via fermentation, but still cannot be considered as beer or wine (from grapes), but more like cider and similar fruit wines, rice wines (Sake, Soju, Huangjiu), and palm wines, etc.
Over the years, this segment has enjoyed quite a rise in consumption within the alcoholic drinks category, as fruit wines have conquered amateurs of wine, especially millennials who are looking for new experiences and new flavors.
Why do Chinese Consumers Prefer Foreign Brands when it Comes to Alcoholic Drinks?
As for many industries in China, Chinese consumers tend to purchase foreign goods when they can afford to do so, especially when it comes to the food and beverage industry. This phenomenon can be explained by the fact China had several scandals some years ago, resulting in having quite a bad reputation.
Even though regulations are stricter than before, Chinese consumers still privilege foreign products for their quality and reputation, and they can show off a little bit about it.
China’s Booming Digital Market – An Irresistible Opportunity for Alcohol Producers
Following China’s market dynamics and rapid digitalization over the years, all industries have to follow the pace, by adapting their marketing and advertising strategies to a tech-savvy population. That’s why it has become essential for both Chinese and foreign brands to be on e-commerce platforms and social media.
Unlocking the Potential for Selling Alcoholic Drinks in China’s Online Marketplaces
55% of Chinese alcohol consumers are ordering online, and young consumers plan to buy more alcohol products via the Internet. The web provides a greater selection as well as a wonderful display of products. People are able to find almost everything they want, more quickly and less expensive than they would have in brick-and-mortar stores for example. You can buy imported spirits from all over the world on quality cross-border e-commerce websites like Tmall, JD.com, Taobao, etc.
Selling alcohol online has seen great results, and has attracted more consumers than ever, following the Covid-19 pandemic. With over one billion internet active users, e-commerce platforms are a great opportunity for imported alcohol brands to sell their bottles. It is estimated that 780 million Chinese consumers have already bought at least one product online, showing how powerful e-commerce platforms can be in China.
Moreover, even though Chinese consumers like to travel overseas, bringing back some alcoholic drinks when they come back to China, it can be difficult to find a specific foreign brand and import it. That’s why e-commerce platforms are useful for both manufacturers (who can sell their products in large quantities efficiently and safely) and consumers (who can be delivered within a couple of hours).
The Most Popular E-Commerce Platforms in China
Tmall, Taobao, and JD are the giants of e-commerce in China thanks to their large variety of products, and delivery time, but also in terms of quality and safety. According to various studies, the key factor that brands have to respect in order to attract Chinese consumers are quality products that are safe to use.
Founded in 2008 under the famous Alibaba group, Tmall (天猫), is a subsidiary of the e-commerce website Taobao (淘宝网). Its target market is primarily B2C (Business-To-Consumer). Tmall’s concept is ambitious and wise as it allows both local Chinese and international companies to sell their products through the platform in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. Tmall stands out from its competitor’s thanks to its strict standards in terms of quality and renown.
Many foreign brands are conscious of the importance of using e-commerce platforms, such as the Japanese brewer and distiller Suntory brand, Moet Hennessy, Diageo, Remy Martin, Pernod Ricard, etc, that are all on Tmall.
Founded in 1998 by Liu Qiangdong in Beijing, JD (which stands for Jingdong 京东) was at the beginning only a magneto-optical store, which diversified over the years with electronics, computers, mobile phones, etc. In 2004, it opened its online retail platform and quickly became one of the two massive B2C online retailers in China with its competitor the Alibaba-run Tmall. Now, JD.com is partly owned by the giant Tencent, which has 20% of its stake.
JD.com runs one of the biggest online marketplaces in China, with other platforms being Tmall, Pinduoduo, and Suning. Thus, if you want to sell your products in China, you can apply for the e-commerce platform JD.com and become a seller.
Launched in 2003 by the Chinese giant Alibaba, Taobao (淘宝网) is one of the most popular online shopping platforms, specializing in both B2C and C2C transactions, as well as the most popular online entrepreneurship platform, enabling thousands of young entrepreneurs to be successful.
It has hundreds of millions of products and service listings, which are really appreciated by Chinese consumers. Taobao accounts for nearly 60% of the total e-commerce sales in China.
Contrary to Tmall and JD.com, it is easier to be on Taobao as regulations are not as strict. However, be careful to read all the clauses about selling alcohol in China before applying.
The Crucial Role of Social Media for Alcoholic Beverage Brands in China
With foreign companies struggling to communicate directly with their consumers and accommodate Chinese culture, brands have to adapt to Chinese key industry trends in order to stand out amongst their competitors in China’s liquor industry.
Chinese people are among the most connected people worldwide, spending on average 3 hours per day surfing the web and on their smartphones. That’s why if you want to attract them, you’ll need to use digital solutions to gain visibility and make relevant sales.
Alcohol brands and retailers should increase their digital marketing in China, including placing online ads and engaging with customers on social media, as 80% of Chinese consumers aged between 20-39 years old go online every day.
As a matter of fact, Chinese millennial consumers are more digitally active online, and savvier than before compared to Western millennials. Thus, they are the main e-commerce platform’s customers. Knowing this, it is undeniable that you have to do everything you can to attract them and target them. But now, you are probably wondering how to do it.
Official Wechat Account to Promote Your Alcoholic Beverage Brand
Created by the Chinese company Tencent and released in 2011, WeChat was at the beginning only a mobile messaging app. And even though new features were introduced, this functionality remains the core of the app. Marketed as Weixin (微信) in China, it was then rebranded as WeChat in 2012 for the international markets.
Wechat is the most used social media in China as of 2021 far beyond Weibo. Wechat is expected to grow even more in 2022.
The platform is known for its communication services in which users can send messages, share images and videos, voice call, and video call other users on a closed network. Having an account on WeChat enables you to promote your brand via mobile or tablet.
One of the most useful ways to promote your brand is to create an H5 brochure to attract Chinese consumers’ attention.
If you want to know more about WeChat H5 Brochures, you can read our full article.
- Become Viral on the Micro-blogging app Weibo with a verified account
Launched in 2009 by the Chinese technology company Sina Corporation (新浪), Weibo (微博) is one of the biggest social media platforms in China. As its name indicates (“micro-blog”), Weibo provides micro-blogging services and is often compared to Twitter. However, it has evolved into a microblogging hybrid with Instagram, Pinterest, Reddit, and YouTube over the years.
The social microblogging network has also attracted more than 130,000 companies. It’s very important for spirits brands to create their own Weibo Official Account, and get their account verified. If your account is signed as verified, you will have more followers because it’s legitimate proof for Chinese users.
More than 56% of Weibo users follow at least one brand on Weibo. In addition, on Weibo, you don’t need to be connected first to follow a brand. Thus, it can be extremely useful to have an official account on Weibo in order to share content, advertise your alcoholic drinks, as well as to communicate with your customers.
If you want more information about Weibo, you can read our Guide to using Weibo for beginners.
The Key Importance of a Chinese Website for Alcohol Producers
If you want potential clients to hear about you and discover your brand, you need to have a website in Chinese Mandarin, hosted in China (for SEO reasons). Take into account that Baidu (the leading search engine in China), will not rank websites hosted in other countries or websites in other languages than Chinese.
In addition, your website must follow Chinese standards and Chinese trends. In most cases, with a homepage that has a lot of information. If Western consumers tend to prefer a clean aesthetic, it is not the case for Chinese consumers that are accustomed to colorful and animated websites.
To develop your visibility on Baidu, you can use different solutions:
- Pay Per Click (PPC) or Search Engine Marketing (SEM): These solutions are very efficient but can be quite expensive in the long term.
- SEO is better for long-term strategies, and extremely efficient but demands more work. SEO is a long-term process, requiring writing articles and content using keywords, in order to increase presence on the web for search engines.
- Baidu has developed its own set of products and redirects 27% of its traffic to these sites: Baidu Zhidao (Q&A), Baidu Baike (Wikipedia), and Baidu Tieba (Forum). Therefore, investing those Baidu products is not something you can skip.
Chinese Consumers: A Shift in Wines, Beers & Spirits Consumption
Over the years, the number of Chinese consumers has been growing steadily, purchasing more than they ever did before. The new wealthy generation spends a lot of money, on luxury products, and travel, but also in terms of alcohol.
In big cities like Shanghai and Beijing, you will find lots of shops where you can find imported spirits brands for example. The demand is growing and that’s why this kind of shop is created. Today, you can for sure find some Belgium of German beers in a small shop or in a supermarket in these big cities.
The Crucial Role of Branding for Premium Imported Alcoholic Beverages in China
Branding in China is extremely important. Chinese consumers buy the name of a brand. They want to buy premium and reputable brands.
There are two kinds of Alcohol consumers in China:
- The consumer only buys the name of a brand for the “face”. To be reputable in his relative’s circle.
- And the experienced drinkers who buy special brands for the status and heritage of the product. It is part of the ‘internationalization of China, whereby discerning consumers are seeking out new products and experiences.
With the emphasis on international brands entering the market, you need to do everything you can to stand amongst your competitors.
However, you also have to take into account that when you start to do business in China, you have to start over again due to the ‘great firewall’. Most foreign brands need to start from scratch with their branding on Chinese platforms because Chinese consumers might have never heard of your brand.
Build a Strong eReputation for Your Alcohol Brand in China
In China, brand reputation is the most important criterion. You have to do everything to always have a good image alongside Chinese customers. If you lose your reputation, you will lose everything.
To sell wine, spirits, and beer in China, the first thing you need to do is invest in order to increase your reputation online.
You need to make sure that you get good comments for your spirit brand on forums, social media, and other websites. Chinese consumers only trust brands that have good comments and recommendations from friends or family and on media platforms. Don’t hesitate to engage a digital marketing agency that can help you to keep a good image and avoid all bad comments about your brand.
PR: A Good Tool to Improve Your Reputation
In China, as in other countries over the world, consumers don’t read newspapers anymore. Even though Chinese consumers mainly read the press online, it can still be interesting for brands. Chinese people trust the news they read, and if they read a digital press article about your spirit, wine, or beer brand, they will take a look at your website and social media.
You can sign a contract with an online newspaper and a journalist will write an article about your brand. Also, you can invite journalists to events around your goods in order to promote your brand.
Leveraging Chinese KOLs: Maximizing the Promotion of Your Alcoholic Brand
To gain visibility and e-reputation, it is crucial to encourage positive word-of-mouth. That’s why KOL can help you.
The Key Opinion Leaders (KOL) are social media users who succeeded to make a lot of traffic on their accounts and became famous. Chinese consumers idolize KOLs and trust them more than brands. Some KOLs have millions of fans. They are really good to influence the mass population.
You can influence spirits, and lovers, using KOLs as intermediaries. Through them, you will be able to reach your target group. In other words, intermediaries can be a great asset in selling your imported spirits to Chinese consumers.
However be careful, they can improve the reputation of a brand but also destroy it. By collaborating with a KOL, your website and your brand will become more appealing through the buzz effect from their followers. The aim is to create a positive influence on your brand.
MyRedCastle is a French start-up wine producer and customization brand. They provide a special service: customization of wine from a French AOC chateau.
After understanding the demand is growing for wine in China, they decided to enter the Chinese market through an online approach. So our agency made a careful proposal based on the overview and analysis of the market for them and conducted their marketing in China.
- SEO on Baidu.
- Public Relations.
- Management of the e-reputation.
- Weibo: Community management.
- Wine distributor contacts.
- Top 1st pages via 20 keywords.
- 200 publish on forums.
- 30 PRs.
- 30 contacts of wine distributors.
- + 15 000 visitors per month during the program.
Brasserie de Monaco
The Brasserie Brewery began life in 1905 in Monaco. It was later destroyed in 1970 and then rebuilt on ‘Hercule’s Harbor’ in 1998. The brewery produces an artisan, non-filtrated beer, destined for the region’s luxurious hotels and restaurants. It is presented in a premium bottle and reflects Monaco’s luxurious and decadent spirit.
Obtain a better e-reputation to facilitate their distribution in China.
- Social media with the use of online KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders).
- SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Improve Ranking on Baidu.
- Press Relations.
- 3000 new followers on Weibo.
- 1000 new followers on WeChat.
- Ranking in the top 2 pages on Baidu search results.
- Connections with over 50 Chinese KOLs.
How We Can Help Expand Your Alcoholic Beverages Brand in China
Gentlemen Marketing Agency is here to assist you in navigating the challenges of the Chinese market. With over a decade of experience working with Western spirits brands, we are dedicated to ensuring your success in China.
As SEO experts, we prioritize promoting your business and enhancing your online reputation. Leveraging digital tools such as Baidu SEO and SEM, E-PR, Media Buying, and Community Management, we manage and optimize your campaigns for maximum effectiveness.
With in-depth knowledge of Baidu’s functions and a focus on ROI, we provide efficient and cost-effective solutions. Our expertise in lead generation allows us to optimize your online reputation, create quality content, and improve lead conversion rates over time.
Understanding Chinese consumers is key to capturing their attention. Since 2012, we have been helping foreign companies understand the expectations and shopping habits of Chinese customers, enabling us to develop effective strategies tailored to their needs.
Building a strong e-reputation is vital in China’s social media-driven landscape. Our agency can help you manage your online reputation, ensuring customer satisfaction and positive brand discussions, leading to increased sales figures over time.
At Gentlemen Marketing Agency, we offer comprehensive services including website creation, Baidu SEO, social media marketing (WeChat & Weibo), reputation management, PR, and analytics. Our experienced team provides monthly reports and analyses to keep you informed.
Some examples of our clients’ WeChat accounts:
Partnering with us allows you to tap into our expertise and overcome the challenges of the Chinese market. We are dedicated to helping your brand succeed and thrive in China.
Get in Touch
If you take everything into consideration, the Chinese market could be the opportunity of a lifetime for your imported brand.
In this adventure, you will have to make difficult decisions, that could have a significant impact in the long term. Therefore, you will need to take the right ones. Working with marketing specialists in China can help you to avoid traps and take the best out of the Chinese market to be successful.
You can also read our Strategic Guide to Export Food Brands in China