Prosecco and China

A glass of Prosecco © Nicole_80 / Public Domain / Pixabay

Prosecco is a white wine produced exclusively in Italy’s Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions. It represents the excellence of Veneto’s wine production and is one of the highest expressions of the nation’s sparkling wine production. It is obtained exclusively from vineyards located in hilly areas and from Glera vines, whose shoots are hazelnut brown in colour and produce long bunches of golden yellow grapes (Colombo, 2014). The shoots themselves are grown vertically, cut when they are in excess, and then tied to create a microclimate that allows the formation of aromatic substances within the grapes. In 2009, Prosecco was classified with the “D.O.C.” denomination (Denominazione di Origine Controllata), which attests a wine satisfies a defined quality standard and is produced within a specified region (Colombo, 2014). Since that reform, prosecco has achieved a stable presence in the Italian domestic market and over time, has built up an image in foreign markets - especially in China, where it is recognised as a special product since the end of 2021 – and therefore its production in terms of both volume and value has made great progress (Faedi, 2022).

Since ancient times, the only alcohol consumed in China were those made from fermented rice and as such – until a few decades ago – wines made from grapes were not very popular (Canestri, 2020). However, influenced by the country’s modernization and its exposure to Western countries and lifestyle, Chinese consumers' preferences have changed to such an extent that fermented rice-based drinks have been replaced by grape-based drinks. Traditionally for Chinese consumers, the 'place' of wine is France, which to them is a country that represents luxury and high-quality products. Wine consumption was therefore inspired by logic of social recognition, in an attempt to raise the standard of living to that which the Chinese recognise in the French (Zgadzaj, 2019).

Despite this, Italy also plays a decisive role in this competition, as it relies on the 'Made in Italy' concept of its products, which have always been synonymous with high quality and excellence. This strategy is called “Country of origin effect and aims to reinforce the value of a brand in relation to foreign markets (Zgadzaj, 2019). The perception and image of the products is fundamental: many Chinese consumers perceive Italy as the country of fashion and elegance, creating beauty and excellence in every field. Consequently, Prosecco in China is increasingly seen as a status symbol, and it is this factor that has contributed to the increase in import consumption over the years. Although the Chinese market for prosecco is a relatively young market when compared to Italy's traditional partners such as the US and Europe, there is a growing phenomenon in China characterised by well-off consumers which are not fully familiar with the new product, and therefore Western sommeliers are often called in to handle the 'story-telling' of each wine (Vescovi, 2015).

Developing sales channels is one of the most important ways to promote the expansion of the Chinese Prosecco market. Generally, wine enters China through the main Chinese ports: Dalian (大连), Tianjin(天津), and Qingdao(青岛)for North China, Shanghai(上海)and Ningbo (宁波) for Central China, and Xiamen(厦门)and Guangzhou(广州)for South China. The distributor is a key figure in the wine sector. Not all importers in China are also distributors, there are many large importers who do not operate a distribution network and it is important for those who want to export successfully to China to take this distinction into account (Piscano 2013). The fastest growing channel in China is private consumers, who occupy about half of the wine market and the Ho.Re.Ca channel (generally composed of hotels and restaurants). With China being the world’s largest and fastest-growing e-commerce market for wine – approx. 21 million wine buyers online – it is fundamental for business strategies to factor Chinese consumers. Due to the development of globalisation, wine is more popular among 18–to-29-year-old consumers who were directly influenced by western trends (Wang, 2021). Research conducted in 2017 by Wine Intelligence Ltd., shows that buyers who are more likely to shop online are those from the city of Wuhan (武汉), Shenzhen (深圳) and Chengdu (成都). Trade fairs also play a very important role in the growth of the Chinese wine market: these are events that allow companies to create a kind of representative office where they can meet and communicate with other companies' representative offices. During trade fairs, products are products that are also testable, and this is useful for making contacts and checking whether one's product is well received or not by consumers (Pecchenino, 2002). For the wine sector the main events are: The Shanghai Wine and Spirit Exhibition Expo and The Hong Kong International Wines and Spirits Fair.

Due to the pandemic, the previous two years saw a drop in Prosecco imports to China: in 2020, total purchases were worth around two billion euros, representing a negative drop of around 27% compared to the previous years. Despite this, the Chinese market in 2021 began to show positive signs of recovery, through “revenge spending”, a phenomenon in which consumers rush to spend more than they normally would do on products due to previous economic or political crises (Crivelli, 2020). In 2021, the global consumption of sparkling wines almost doubled. Prosecco itself recorded +117% and in general, exports of Italian sparkling wines grew by 33%. Chinese customs data reveal that China imported EUR 1.5 billion worth of wine in 2021 (-13.3% compared to 2020), a total of 424.3 million litres, and an average price of EUR 3.54 per litre (Pantini, 2021).

Prosecco is a significant wine in the Italian tradition, which is appreciated all over the world for its high quality and elegance. Due to globalisation, it arrived in China where it immediately gained a wide range of success among consumers driven by its high qualities, and in that way, becoming a status symbol, especially among young Chinese people. Trade fairs and e-commerce platforms are the preferred distribution channels for this type of product, which is destined to grow more and more over time and become a strategic export product for Italy.

Giulia Busnardo 竺明玉 is a sinologist, graduated both at Ca' Foscari University of Venice and Capital Normal University in Beijing. After winning the 2022 America Youth Award and the 2022 CNU Best Alumni Award, she is currently pursuing a master's degree programme in Chinese Language and at the same time attending a master course in Leadership for International Relations and Made in Italy. She’s collaborating with several periodicals and blogs, including 紫竹留声报纸( Zǐzhú liú shēng bàozhǐ)based in Beijing and European Guanxi, in which she also works as Membership Officer. You can find her on LinkedIn.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writers and do not represent the views of European Guanxi.

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