Q&8: Greek wine importer Liakos Constantinos

“Our best year for sales.” Not a statement often heard about China’s wine market these days but importer and distributor Liakos Constantinos, who carries over 100 Greek wines and spirits, has carved out a strong niche with his company Hellenic Agora Trading.

This Q&8 covers the sharp post-zero COVID rebound of his company, the role of social media in driving sales and awareness, the success of his quirky wine Paleokerisio, the top three picks from his portfolio for a casual dinner, and more. (Check out our previous Q&8, done just after the 2022 Beijing Olympics, here.)

1 Since our last Q&8 over 18 months ago, the zero-COVID era has ended and we have gone through a year of recovery. What’s your view of the China wine scene?

After a difficult 2022, with a “zero sales” December, we finally saw a real open market emerge in 2023. For Hellenic Agora, 2023 has been our best year for sales since 2014, when we established the business.

Both HoReCa (hotel, restaurant and café) and online orders have hit new records, with more customers accounts and more volume.

2 In the last Q&8, you talked about the importance of Douyin, the local equivalent of TikTok, for reaching consumers. Do you still consider it the key platform? How about WeChat and Little Red Book?

I consider the total impact of social media as a key for our business, both for sales and awareness. We are focusing on the Little Red Book (Xiao Hong Shu), Douyin, Weibo and Wechat platforms in order to create more content, mainly pairing Chinese food with Greek wines. Our livestreaming videos are also boosting sales on a daily basis.

3 I’m curious about your “Paleokerisio” wine. The bottle is an atypical size size (500 ml) and shape (non-tapered neck). It’s bubbly but less so than Prosecco or Champagne. And it’s ‘orange’. It seems out of place, yet I’ve seen this bottle pop up in friends’ online posts. What’s the story?

It’s a product that offers almost everything! A sexy bottle, sugar levels appealing to normal consumers, a few bubbles for refreshment, an attractive price and a professional POS (point of sale). It also fits into the market trend for ‘orange’ wines.

This is a traditional wine from a northwest part of Greece called Ioannina, vinified this way since the early 1950’s. I see no competitor for this SKU around the world.

This wine is also a success story in the U.S., with more than 70,000 bottles sold in 2023. Hopefully in 2024 we can reach this amount in China, too.

We are also preparing the next success story! It will be Retsina.

4 A gyro joint called Greek Freak just opened in my Beijing neighborhood. And we also now have two Greek restaurants, one over 20 years old and one pretty new. How important are such venues for driving sales?

The Greek restaurants are very important for sales and awareness of Greek wines. For that reason, we are opening a Greek restaurant in the Nanshan area of Shenzhen, where consumers can taste authentic Greek food and select wines from among 90 choices!

5 We see more and more wine contests in China. What is your view of this trend and how do you decide which contests to enter?

I never enter wine competitions in China. The wineries that we represent already have awards from international competitions. I am looking forward to meeting the final consumers and not interested in hunting for medals in competitions.

6 The last time we met, we talked about how white wine is more popular than many people realize. What are your experiences with Greek white wines in China?

Our sales for white wine are reaching more than 50 percent of our total volume. Greece has the blessing of unique white wines, of super aromatic wines. White wine sales will grow in coming years because of the weather, with places such as Guangzhou hot almost all-year round, because of consumption of wine as an aperitif and because of more pairing of wine with Chinese food.

The focus on old-school heavy oaky red wines with over 15 percent alcohol was misleading. The new consumers, the real consumers, are selecting wines to enjoy rather than to impress people by showing how far they could stick their fingers up a bottle’s punt. [Some consumers believe the deeper the punt, that indent at the bottle’s bottom, the better the wine.]

7 You carry over 100 wines and spirits. But if you had to pick three, just to enjoy with friends over a casual dinner, which ones would you choose?

I would pick a dry rose made from Moschofilero grapes to start, a dry white made with Vidiano grapes and a dry red made with with Limniona grapes for a casual dinner. Three local Greek varieties to give a quick understanding of the diversity that you can get from Greece’s terroir.

8 We are only a few months from Year of the Dragon! Can you give us three wine predictions?

After the “zero sales” surrounding the last Chinese New Year, from December 2022 to January 2023, when most people were sick or not in the mood to drink, I believe the upcoming Year of the Dragon will be great for those in the wine business who understand the new era, for those who are not dreaming of the past misleading market.

I am positive about Hellenic Agora and about Greek wine in general because we have an alternative wine portfolio for the consumer next door, the professional sommelier and the live-streaming viewers looking beyond OEM products. In the Year of the Dragon, we will see more real consumption at the HoReCa level, more online sales and more white wine consumption.

Athena restaurant in Beijing

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