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Chinese travellers will boost status spirits

High-end brand owners should prepare for ‘heightened’ international demand once Chinese consumers start travelling again, IWSR Drinks Market Analysis has recommended.

Luxury whisky IWSR Chinese consumers
Chinese consumers spent more than US$2.4 billion on international status spirits in 2020, mostly on Cognac and Armagnac

IWSR Drinks Market Analysis said the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of Chinese consumers to international high-end spirits. Purchasing shifted to the domestic (duty paid) market during the pandemic as travel was restricted.

Brand strategies targeting Chinese consumers, once they begin travelling again, will be ‘increasingly vital’, IWSR said.

Thorsten Hartmann, custom analytics director, IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, said: “China was one of the few countries where international status spirits ([more than] US$100 [per] bottle) had a relatively good year in 2020.”

Hartmann noted two key reasons for this trend. Firstly, international spirits bought outside of China and in global travel retail (GTR) are seen as more trustworthy sources of non-counterfeit goods. Secondly, there is a certain social ‘status’ associated with buying products from overseas.

Chinese consumers spent more than US$2.4 billion on international status spirits in 2020 across the domestic duty paid channel and Hainan. Most of this came from Cognac and Armagnac sales, with Chinese nationals spending more than US$2bn on these spirits.

High-end baijiu continued to dominate the domestic market for status spirits. However, IWSR noted opportunities for Cognac and ‘to a lesser extent’ Scotch whisky, particularly malt or grain bottlings.

Hartmann added: “This depends largely on the Chinese government’s decisions around the resumption of international travel, which will dictate where the Chinese consumer needs to be served.

“Currently, it is tempting for brand owners – especially in Cognac and Scotch whisky – to focus entirely on the domestic China market and Hainan, but it’s important to keep an eye on the longer-term.

“When international travel does resume, marketing strategies in domestic and international GTR, targeting the Chinese consumer – in terms of language and cultural cues – will be increasingly vital.”

Furthermore, IWSR noted how the success of Hainan in the latter half of 2020 offset GTR losses in China because of the number of Chinese travellers and investment by brand owners.

IWSR said it expected Hainan to ‘remain buoyant’ until international travel returns.

Hartmann added: “Once borders open again, Hainan will remain important, but it will likely increasingly serve a more mainstream Chinese audience.

“Brand owners will need to pivot to meet the needs of a different status audience. Baijiu will likely have more importance, as well as a focus away from the highest tier of the status spirits market.”

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