Promoting South African wine in China

BEIJING, CHINA: Considering the depth of South Africa's winemaking abilities, I am utterly disappointed most of the times I dine out in Beijing when I discover that the establishment's wine list either includes no South African wines or only contains extremely low cost brands at ridiculous prices of R300. I always wonder what people not familiar with our country or our wine industry must think when drinking the worst our country has to offer.
Promoting South African wine in ChinaChinese and other non-South African owned wine distribution companies are responsible for the majority of our sales in China, yet none of them ever lift a finger to promote Brand South Africa as a source of leading wines, and for the most part try to make the most money off the cheapest wines - not exactly a sustainable approach for our country's industry.

Very low-key

Official promotions of Brand South Africa wines are very low-key. While the Department of Trade and Industry (dti) and Wines of South Africa (WOSA) have limited themselves to exhibition participation, the South African Embassy for its part ensured that numerous wine tasting events were included in last year's South Africa promotional campaign, which included media engagement activities resulting in media coverage of our wines in local publications.

South Africa Tourism has also included the wine route in the itinerary of visiting Chinese journalists to SA that has resulted in some local media coverage of our wines.

No matter from which angle you look at it, however, SA wines are promoted too irregularly in China, if at all, and for the most part China's burgeoning middle class has little inkling that our country produces any wine, never mind being a source of excellent wines.

French wines sell themselves with little effort due to an enviable country brand positioning they hold in China. Australian wines, especially the Jacob's Creek brand, is advertised so extensively that its posters could rival Coca-Cola billboards in Africa. All this while this year we celebrate 350 years of SA producing wine, yet nothing is being done to generate awareness of this in China.

Most puzzling

What I find most puzzling is SA wine producers' complacency in promoting their own wines in China. It is always easy to point fingers at government efforts but, to date, I have personally observed no consortiums or companies proactively targeting the Chinese market.

This is why it was so inspiring to meet Oscar Foulkes of Cloof Wines.

Cloof Wines had signed up with a large Chinese distribution company but was determined to promote its products above and beyond the local partner's efforts. Being virgin territory, it agreed to roll out a Cloof promotional event on a shoestring budget to serve as pilot study. A SA restaurant, fittingly called Pinotage, was selected as the venue and seven Beijing food and beverage bloggers were invited to the event. On the night itself, the restaurant served traditional SA food and Oscar Foulkes kicked-off the event with the Cloof wine tasting session.

Being from such an ‘exotic' country, the culturally curious Chinese media could barely contain their excitement and ask numerous questions. The most impressive aspect of the event was how the bloggers genuinely enjoyed themselves, as opposed to the usual run-of-the-mill media events, where journalists usually arrive late, grab a media kit and leave as soon as humanly possible (but understandably so, considering the numerous drab events their editors send them to). The Cloof event resulted in over 10 blog posts achieving an impressive 30 000 hits, an excellent return on investment.

Just as investment advisors will advise against placing all your investment eggs in one basket, it is equally necessary for SA wine companies to develop multiple export markets to spread potential risk.

Ignorant or scared

Yet while this logic is apparent to most, SA wine exporters seem either completely ignorant of China's growing consumption market - or are so utterly scared of the foreign of foreign markets - that it is not even considered. Of equal concern are the companies already exporting to China that do little to promote their brands in the local market; for them I have included some takeaway points.
  • Impactful promotional events CAN be executed on a shoestring budget if conducted in a creative manner
  • While the traditional print media will always be important, industry specific bloggers are passionate about their beat and easier to interact with
  • Chinese media and consumers are genuinely interested in SA products; they are both surprised about and enticed by our products when educated about them.
Successful event checklist:
  • Local PR partner with appropriate media contacts and event management skills
  • Appropriately translated product names
  • Supporting background materials in Mandarin (Chinese media copy and paste, rarely writing their own content)
  • Creative key messages that generates debate
  • Translator versed on SA wine industry terms (very rare, so provide ample time to prepare)
  • Appropriately selected venue with suitable F&B (the Chinese are food-obsessed)
  • Guest gifts (either the product itself or something unique)
  • Post-event media follow-up
I look forward to the day that I will be able to choose from a range of good SA wines in a Chinese shop, restaurant or hotel, but that day will only come when the SA wine industry starts to take the Chinese market seriously, as its competitors already have.

About the author

Michael Jones, an account manager with Weber Shandwick in Beijing, has been living and working in China for seven years. He served as project manager of the Department of Foreign Affairs initiative ‘10 Year Anniversary of South Africa - China Diplomatic Relations' one year campaign and furthermore serves in the volunteer position of MD of the South Africa China Business Association (SACBA). He can be reached at

Copyright © 2020 Bizcommunity.