Q&8 | Liakos Constantino of Hellenic Agora

Liakos Constantinos, CMO and co-founder of Hellenic Agora Trading, overseas a portfolio of more than 100 Greek wine and spirit labels in China. In this Q&8, I ask him about what products he carries, China consumer trends of the past two years, the drop in imported wine the Shenzhen wine scene, how he felt as a Greek about the Olympics in Beijing, and more

1 You represent 100-plus labels from 35 Greek wineries. What is the top-selling wine made from native grapes and non-native grapes? And what trends are you seeing?

As noted, our portfolio contains 100 different choices from 35 wineries and hopefully at the end of 2022 we will have 150.

The top-selling indigenous grape variety is Moschofilero, mainly used for white dry wines, although we have also rosé made with this variety. It’s a very aromatic and fruity wine, and offers excellent value, at less than 100 RMB per bottle retail.

The top-selling international variety is our Cabernet Sauvignon, which we usually use for blind tasting against other famous Cabernets from around the world. That one is 150 RMB, with an old vines version at 380 RMB.

As for trends these past two years, it’s the domination of Douyin for online sales. Our team is making a major effort to boost sales on this platform and our influencer for Greek wine, certified by the association of Greek wine producers, is doing a great job with live-streaming, in terms of sales and wine education.

Livestreaming on Douyin can reach the “consumer next door”, who has no wine education but is curious about the basic of the wines being introduced. The most successful wines on this channel retail for less than 100 RMB.

During the last two years, we also see sales for white grape varieties increasing a lot, and Greece has a competitive advantage for this category! Finally, a general conclusion for the last two years is that wine fairs are facing big issues in attracting visitors.

2 You also import Greek spirits. Many people know about Ouzo but what else do you have?

We have a complete portfolio of Ouzo, with 50 ml, 200 ml, 700 ml and 3-liter packaging and options such as premium triple distillation and entry-level choices with lower alcohol.

We also carry Tsipouro, a traditional distilled product made from grape mark. It’s in the general category of Grappa and Pisco. We have more than eight choices with different grape varieties and oak treatments.

3 There was a consumer craze for buying tiny bottles of spirits and making :DIY cocktails”, like sticking one of those opened bottles upside down into a juice box. Did people use your Ouzo for that?

DIY cocktails started booming in the Red Book social media application due to a campaign by the KKV supermarket chain to attract younger customers with easy low-cost drinks. We had great sales with our Ouzo and Tsipouro, and our influencer created many videos for simple cocktails using cola, Sprite, coffee and lemon tea.

4 You’ve been in Shenzhen for nearly eight years. What distinguishes it as a wine city? And what are three places for newcomers to visit?

I don’t think we can call Shenzhen a wine city yet! We have seen great progress, with new wine bars and large wine lists at restaurants, but we still don’t have many people drinking wine without ordering food like we do in Shanghai. The wine bars in Shenzhen are like restaurants with better selections of wine, and those who started with tapas have changed the food menu very quickly to attract more customers.

For Shenzhen newcomers, I recommend the wine bar Weeknd. They have a great selection and always a friendly smile. Panos Steak House is my personal favorite for steak, with some of the best service in China and a very large wine list. The third would be Wine Lab: I respect their efforts over the last six years to upgrade the wine bar category in Shenzhen.

5 Wine imports have been stagnant, even in decline, the past half-dozen years. At the same time, we see more wine bars, trade fairs, contests and adventurous consumers. What’s the problem and how to fix it?

Wine imports are not declining due to a fall in consumption. Local production is moving and I believe that will benefit the industry in general. More people will start drinking local wine and slowly start looking for different international choices.

In wine bars, we see maybe 30 percent of the catalogue is local wine. There are too many wine fairs nowadays and the Internet offers more information to bigger audiences. Of course, the epidemic has affected the trade fair business a lot.

I believe that the decline of wine imports is not a problem. The market is changing. Our goal is to enlarge the audience and find potential consumers by offering sophisticated choices for different wallets. We need to create new marketing campaigns and forget the import numbers.

Our company has doubled its wine import volume since 2019 and tripled the spirit volume.

6 When I joined your wine dinner in Beijing, it was fun to drink wine made from grape varieties that date to the time of Homer and other well-known Greek icons. What’s your favorite story of Ancient Greek grapes?

In China, stories are very important to differentiate your wines from others, to attract an audience and, finally, to make a sale. Greek history and mythology offer many stories and many different wine types!

One of my favorite stories is that because of trade–Greece used to be an important port for trading in ancient times–Greeks taught Italians and French how to produce wine.

Also, it is impressive that the grape variety “Limnio” is mentioned in The Odyssey and we still use this variety for producing wine. This is proof of the importance of wine since ancient times.

7 What three dishes do you miss most from home? And what’s your favorite restaurant for Greek food in China?

The last few years I have learned to cook even the most difficult dishes, like moussaka, oven-baked lamb and pies. I even make bread in my small oven.

I do miss souvlaki (aka gyrros). And every time I go to Xiamen, I visit what I consider to be the best Greek restaurant in China, Golden Olives Restaurant.

8 The Olympics in Beijing just finished! What does it mean to you as a Greek to be in a country where the Games were held?

Every time we watch the Greek team entering the stadium first in the opening ceremonies, we feel some butterflies in our bellies. This time we felt prouder because a team of Chinese children sang the Olympic Games song in Greek. It was a great moment to experience while being in China.

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