Reaching Chinese consumers through your back label: read our free White Paper

Remember the last time you bought a bottle of soy sauce? Now imagine if instead of western brand names, all you could see was Chinese characters on the labels. How would you make your choice? Now imagine that the soy sauce category was as complex as wine: different varietals, countries of origin, styles and wildly varying prices. This is the challenge that faces Chinese consumers every day as they enter the wine aisle.

While many educated Chinese are now learning foreign languages (mainly English), the average Chinese consumer has limited exposure to foreign languages in their daily lives. When it comes to wine, most consumers refer to the Chinese versions of brand names, or a descriptive (“the one with the orange label”); opinions of regions and varietals are passed around in Chinese.

Yet here lies a dilemma: while consumers want information they understand, they also want to make sure the wine label looks authentic. The presence of Chinese text on a front label makes consumers nervous that it could be a fake – a justifiable fear in a market which is struggling to stamp out well-organised counterfeiters.

This leaves the back label. Beyond the mandatory information that goes on the back label, there is still a great deal of freedom to present information in a way that helps a wine brand put its best foot forward in Chinese.

The best Chinese back labels should have:

  • Correct legal information
  • Good Chinese translation of the brand name
  • Information about place of origin, varietal and producer
  • Clear and simply presented information on key taste aspects, such as sweetness and acidity
  • Taste description using keywords that consumers find appealing and flavour references that make sense in local context
  • Optional extras to further communicate taste information and/or reassure that wine is authentic

These last two elements are perhaps the most difficult to finesse. The main issue is that the Chinese have different codes for describing flavours, which doesn’t necessarily match the standard wine industry lexicon. In our most recent survey of Chinese imported wine consumers (March 2013), representative of 19 million of Chinese upper middle class drinkers of imported wine, we started to understand some of these codes.

At the highest level there are general concepts such as sweetness, acidity, fruitiness and “astringency”. This last element is the slightly harsh sensation that often comes with a wine that is overly dry, high in tannins or high in alcohol, and is generally seen as a negative. Next in the information hierarchy comes more detailed descriptions of the wine style, e.g. “delicate/refined”, “sharp”, or “bitter” etc. Last in the information hierarchy are references that link the wine taste to other flavours in the aroma library, like “lemon” or “mango”. The slight wrinkle here is that the Chinese aroma library deviates quite markedly from the “western” model.