Drinks giants turn to China

04 August 2009

BEIJING: Alcoholic drinks manufacturers such as Diageo and SABMiller are increasingly turning their attention to China, which is seen as a vital growth market both during and after the downturn.

The International Wine and Spirits Register has estimated that Brazil, Russia, India and China are currently responsible for around 48% of all global spirits consumption.

Euromonitor, the research firm, has also predicted that the per capita consumption of alcoholic drinks in the world's most populous nation will increase from 37.8 litres in 2008 to 53.4 litres in 2013.

In an attempt to tap into this trend, Diageo, the spirits giant, recently introduced a new vodka brand in the country, called Shanghai White, which is aimed particularly at affluent consumers.

The company, which owns Johnnie Walker and Guinness, launched the product through its partnership with Quanxing, a domestic spirits company in which it holds a 43% stake.

Pernod Ricard, Diageo's main rival, has a similar agreement in place with Jian Nan Chun, inherited via its takeover of the Swedish firm Vin & Sprit in March 2008.

LVMH, the luxury goods group, also acquired a 55% share in Wenjun Distillery from Jian Nan Chun in 2007, and has since set about redesigning its partner's products, as well as promoting its own Hennessy cognac brand.

Overall, imported spirits took a 0.8% share of the market in China last year, up from 0.2% in 2003, although baijiu, the traditional distilled liquor, still dominates the category.

The Chinese beer sector has also grown in value from $17 billion (€11.8bn; £10.0bn) in 2001 to $30bn in 2007, and eight of the Asian nation's ten biggest brewers have received at least some form of foreign investment.

Snow, produced by SABMiller and China Resources, is one of the world's biggest-selling beers, although whether it holds the number one spot has been the subject of some debate.

SABMiller reported that its sales in the fast-growing market rose by 17% over the last quarter year-on-year, helping offset a decline in demand elsewhere.

By contrast, Anheuser-Busch InBev sold the majority of its stake in Tsingtao, one of China's biggest breweries, earlier this year.

However, A-B is seeking to promote Budweiser and Stella Artois in the country, where it still owns around 20 brewers, and sells local brands like Harbin and Sedrin.

Data sourced from China International Business/NZTV; additional content by WARC staff