Bottled wine imports to China dropped by one third in both volume and value during the first six months of 2020, though the market showed early signs of a rebound from June as lockdown measures due to Covid-19 were lifted, according to customs figures.
A total of 160 million litres (213m standard bottles) of bottled wine* were imported into China during the first half of 2020, a drop of 32% compared to the previous year. The value also decreased by 31% to 752.9 million USD.
After rigid lockdown measures enforced at an early stage of the Covid-19 pandemic, cities in China have slowly resumed normality from early April, but consumers remain cautious during the first months after lockdown. The trade is still striving to get rid of the stock built up from Chinese New Year in February 2020, when celebrations were cancelled under lockdown.
April and May were the worst hit months by the global pandemic, both showing nearly 50% decrease in import value year on year, in addition to 44% and 53% drop in value respectively.
In June, as more restaurants and shops reopened, the rate of decrease slowed down, though still accounts for drops of 25.7% in volume and 28.2% in value.
But the sales for imported wines might not have hit the bottom just yet, as July and August are traditionally ‘lighter seasons’ for the imported wine trade in China, said Lu Yang MS, China’s first Master Sommelier and founder of Grape Wine Education.
China: Wine imports drop but trade points to green shoots
However, with more traditional holidays including Mid-Autumn Festival and China’s National Day (both on Oct 1st) coming up, the hospitality sector is hoping for a full recovery in autumn, said Yang, in an interview with Decanter.com in June.
Australia has now replaced France to become the top source of imported bottled wines into China during the first six months of this year, and the fastest to recover post-lockdown.
In its half-year report, Wines of Australia recorded a 0.7% increase in value on wines (including bulk wines) exported to Mainland China, despite a 17% drop in volume during the first half of 2020.
‘The growth in the average value was due to on-going growth in exports at higher price points, as well as a decline at the low-end,’ according to the report.
In June the decrease in volume of bottled wines from Australia is down to 5.8%, according to Chinese customs figures, showing the fastest move towards recovery compared to most of the other major wine-producing countries.
France accounted for 47.7m litres (219.6m USD) of bottled wine imported into China, down by 32% in volume and 37.7% in value compared to last year.
The impact brought by the global pandemic combined with the retaliatory imports tariff, due to the ongoing dispute between the US and China, was evident on the imports volume and value of bottled wines from the States, which dropped by 35.7% and 46.4% respectively.
Argentina was the only country bucking the trend with a significant 654% increase in volume, though imports value is only up by 20.6% and average price down by 84%, hinting the increase was driven by wines from the lower end of the market.
Wine is not the only category in alcoholic beverages hit by Covid-19, according to China’s Association for Imports and Export of Wine Spirits (CAWS).
Beer imports were down by 22.6% in volume and 17.5% in value, while imported spirits saw an 8% drop in volume and a 31.4% drop in value. However, in June beer imports have recovered to the same level as last year, faster than any other categories.
*Including wine packaged in vessels not exceeding 10 litres and sparkling wines. Source: Chinese Customs and China Association for Imports and Export of Wine Spirits