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China Portraits 2019 reveals changing consumer behaviours and attitudes to the wine category that are more aligned to a typical developed world wine market

China remains a wine market with great potential, despite recent falls in imported wine volumes. With an urban mid-to-high income population of around 112 million, just under half (52 million) are drinking imported wine at least twice a year. However, the market appears to be maturing, and, as Wine Intelligence’s China Portraits 2019 report describes, we are starting to see behaviours and attitudes to the category that are more aligned to a typical developed world wine market.

So how is the wine market of China becoming more ‘mature’? For one thing, the stock of regular (monthly) imported wine drinkers has stalled, for now, at around 33 million individuals. To put this into context, the equivalent UK population is 27.5 million, and the US number is 84 million. Those entrepreneurs dreaming of a future where a billion Chinese each bought a case of wine a year (which, if it ever came to pass, would account for roughly 40% of global wine production) looks unlikely – at least for now.

What we have instead is evidence of growing sophistication among some wine consumers, a more everyday drinking relationship with wine among other drinks and other groups that are still either feeling their way into wine or discovering that the drink doesn’t fit their tastes or lifestyle. These trends are all analysed in the China Portraits 2019 report, which provides a segmentation of these consumers based on their relationship with the category and how these groups have changed since the last report in 2017.

For example, those who drink wine mainly for the medicinal purposes (aka ‘Health Sippers’) – now accounts for the smallest consumer segment in the market. Then there are ‘Mainstream Casuals’ – those who have adopted a wine drinking culture, drinking wine for pleasure and have discovered the wine they like.

Another sign of a maturing market is more knowledgeable and involved consumers. Previously, there was a proportion of consumers who we called ‘Prestige-seeking Traditionalists’ – affluent consumers that mainly drunk red wine and equate high price with quality. Part of those consumers have now evolved into ‘Engaged Explorers’, a newly identified segment in 2019, who are equally high-spending but explore more frequently and often beyond traditional wine categories. One could say that they are genuine wine enthusiasts who would seize any opportunity they could to enrich their wine experience.

The other group of ‘Prestige-seeking Traditionalists’ have evolved into ‘Status Seekers’, yet another new consumer segment identified this year. ‘Status Seekers’ are those who drink wine to show their social status and don’t mind spending more on a bottle of wine; although, they are not necessarily keen in becoming more involved with the category. These ‘Status Seekers’ are more adventurous than their predecessors and drink wine from a more fashionable, niche repertoire.

In comparison to these new and evolving segments, ‘Social Newbies’ still represent the largest group of consumers, just as it did in 2017. They are the youngest drinkers, typically at the start of their careers, who are yet to develop their interest in wine. They are still experimenting with the different categories but are less likely to be drinking wine than before due to perceived health implications. ‘Frugal Occassionals’ also remain low frequency drinkers who are typically motivated by ‘the price being right’ and are less motivated by the wine category.

More details about each consumer segment can be found in the China Portraits 2019 report, which provides general context of the Chinese wine market in addition to characteristics and changes within each segment. China Portraits 2019 is the fifth published edition of our China Portraits (the first one was published in 2011). Portraits is also available for the UK, the US, Australia and Canada.


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Author: Ya-Ting Fan


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