Chinese lose taste for French wine as economy cools

Sales of French wine and spirits to China slumped 14.4 per cent in 2018. — AFP file pic
Sales of French wine and spirits to China slumped 14.4 per cent in 2018. — AFP file pic

PARIS, Feb 13 — Sales of French wine and spirits to China fell last year, industry figures showed today, in a further sign that a Chinese economic slowdown is hitting consumption.

The Federation for Wine and Spirit Exporters (FEVS) said sales to mainland China, France’s third-biggest export market, slumped 14.4 per cent in 2018 to €1 billion (RM4.6 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 markets contracted by 1.5 per cent last year to €2.5 billion, a reversal after years of double-digit growth fuelled by the growing taste for foreign alcohol among the Chinese middle class.

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 it battles 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.”

Worldwide, French wine and spirits exports grew 2.4 per cent last year to €13.2 billion, driven by appetite for the country’s three-star products: Champagne, Bordeaux wine and Cognac.

The largest export market remains the United States, where sales increased 4.6 per cent.

Exports are a key driver for the French wine and spirits industry as it confronts falling consumption at home.

In under 20 years, wine consumption per capita in France has fallen by more than 20 per cent, 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. — AFP