Chinese lose taste for French wine as economy cools
AFP – Sales of French wine and spirits to China fell last year, industry figures showed on Wednesday, in a further sign that a Chinese economic slowdown is hitting consumption.
The Federation for Wine and Spirit Exporters (FEVS) said direct sales to mainland China, France’s third-biggest export market, slumped 14.4 percent in 2018 to 1 billion euros ($1.13 billion).
But it said the drastic decline had been partly compensated by an increase in exports to Singapore and Hong Kong, from where some French wine is re-routed to the mainland.
Sales to all three Asian markets contracted by 1.5 percent last year to 2.5 billion euros, a reversal after years of double-digit growth fuelled by the growing taste for foreign alcohol, particularly high-end reds from Bordeaux.
China’s economy grew at its slowest pace in almost three decades in 2018 and lost more steam in the last quarter of the year as the Beijing government battled to cut massive debt and quell a US trade war.
Antoine Leccia, head of FEVS, put a positive spin on the figures, saying exports to mainland China, Hong Kong and Singapore were still the second-best on record, "which confirms the long-term dynamics of the Chinese market."
French wine makers have experienced only one other major blip in China over the last 15 years of explosive growth.
In 2013 and 2014, an anti-corruption drive by the Communist party coincided with a fall in demand for luxury goods, with wine sales declining as a result.
"The only producer country which saw its exports (to China) increase last year was Chile because there are no import duties since 2016 thanks to a free-trade agreement," Leccia added.
Italian and Spanish producers were also hit by the downturn, he said.
– Falling sales at home –
Worldwide, French wine and spirits exports grew 2.4 percent last year to 13.2 billion euros, driven by appetite for the country’s three most famous products: Champagne, Bordeaux wine and Cognac.
The largest export market remains the United States, where sales increased 4.6 percent.
Exports are a key driver for the French wine and spirits industry as it confronts falling consumption at home. They are also one of the biggest foreign exchange earners for the country.
In under 20 years, wine consumption per capita in France has fallen by more than 20 percent, according to the latest figures from the International Wine Organisation.
The decline is attributed to changing wine drinking habits — people drink less, but higher quality — as well as a growing taste for rival alcohols such as beer.