(Yicai Global) July 27 -- China’s demand for whiskey is on the rise as the country’s young acquire a taste for the complex flavors of single malts. Sales of imported whiskey grew in double digits in the first five months, bucking the declining trend among overall alcohol imports, and leading to a rush by foreign and local firms to gain a foothold in the sector.
The import value of whiskeys surged 19.6 percent in the five months ended May 31 from the same period last year, and the volume of imports jumped 9.6 percent, according to data from the China Chamber of Commerce of Imports and Exports of Foodstuffs, Native Produce and Animal By-Products. This is in contrast to a 15 percent slump in the value of overall liquor imports to USD661 million and a 17.3 percent drop in volume to 42.7 million liters
Whiskey drinkers used to be a minority in China, but the alcohol has become increasingly popular among the young, leading to an impressive jump in imports, Cai Xuefei, general manager at Zhiqu Consulting, told Yicai Global. Last year, the value of China’s whiskey imports nearly doubled to USD460 million and the volume soared 43.8 percent.
Whiskey lovers are on the rise in China and whiskey sales are expected to grow rapidly over the next three to five years, said Yang Zhengjian, dean of WBO Wine Business School.
Keen to jump on the bandwagon, some of the world’s biggest whiskey distillers, including France’s Pernod Ricard, Scotland’s Edrington and Bermuda’s Bacardi, have all brought their finest Scotch whiskeys to the China International Consumer Products Expo that kicked off in Haikou, southern Hainan province, yesterday, to vie for market share.
And a number of foreign distillers have started to build factories in China to supply the burgeoning local market. The UK’s Diageo is building a CNY500 million (USD78.2 million) distillery in southwestern Yunnan province and Paris-based Pernod Ricard is investing USD1 billion (USD156.4 million) to construct a plant in southwestern Sichuan province. Once in operation, they will produce some of the first single malt whiskies of Chinese origin.
Despite the challenges of the recent outbreaks of Covid-19, Pernod Ricard’s China sales climbed 8 percent in the first three months from a year ago, and they managed 12 percent growth in the nine months ended March 21, said Jerome Cottin-Bizonne, managing director of the company’s China arm. The firm plans to introduce more whiskey labels into the China market soon.
Local companies are also rushing to tap into the whiskey sector. Eighty-nine percent of the 476 whiskey businesses in the country were incorporated after 2017, according to corporate information platform Qichacha.
However, whiskey still has a long way to go to catch up with China’s favorite tipple, baijiu, a fiery clear grain liquor known for its high alcohol content. Baijiu accounted for over 99 percent of China’s liquor consumption last year, according to International Wine and Spirit Research.
Editors：Shi Yi, Kim Taylor