China wine imports 2010: France spanks everyone (again)

By J. Boyce

(I wrote this more than six weeks ago but am just getting around to posting it now. Hopefully is still relevant for some people.)

Sometimes it feels like we have a new French paradox: Every year China Customs releases its data on bottled wine imports and France not only comes in first but also increases its share of the market. Last year was no exception.

Imports of bottled wine in 2010 increased 61 percent over 2009 to reach 146 million liters. The China market is still relatively small but those numbers represent a major increase and it comes on top of  many years of steady growth. Where that wine is going is another story but here are a few notes on how things looked last year for The Big Six — France, Australia, Spain, Chile, Italy, and the United States — which account for ~90 percent of bottled wine imports.

  • France: Imports rose 67 percent, slightly higher than the average rate, on a strong base and thus pushed France’s share of the overall market to nearly half at 46.3 percent. I do not yet have the import numbers by value but suspect France did even better there. To get a sense of the strength of France, consider it in contrast to the number two source of imported bottled wine, Australia. In 2007, France had about twice as much market share as Australia: ~38 percent versus ~20 percent. Now it has about three times as much market share: 46.3 percent versus 16.2 percent. And it is pulling away at a time when the market is rapidly growing and that means the gap is even more pronounced when it comes to volume.
  • Australia: Last year was not the best in terms of volume as imports rose by 27 percent, well below the average, and Australia’s share of the market stood at 16.2 percent after several years of being around 20 percent. Concern from Australia would be justified given the cheap and decent wines coming in from all corners of the world. That is one reason its promotion arm, Wine Australia, has put an emphasis on premium wines. It would be easy to say Australia is in a tough spot but it is a pretty good tough spot given imports are still growing and it still holds second place.
  • Italy: It saw the second biggest growth among the Big Six, at 78 percent, and rose to third place with 7.7 percent of the market. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Italy’s market share is modest in comparison to the size of its wine industry and export potential. It still has a long way to go to take its rightful place in this market.
  • Chile: Its imports increased 54 percent as it took 7.2 percent of the market. Chile still offers good value but I am seeing more Argentine and other competitors on the shelves.
  • Spain: It saw the biggest growth, up 105 percent over 2009. As with Italy, its overall share, at 6.5 percent, is disappointing given the size of the Spanish wine industry.
  • United States: It posted modest growth of 47 percent—again, that is modest by China standards—but this came after a boom year for the country and still represents reasonably healthy import numbers. The United States took 6.3 percent of the market.

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