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Friday, June 15, 2018, 11:08
The real luxury is inside the bottle
By Sun Feier in Hong Kong
Friday, June 15, 2018, 11:08 By Sun Feier in Hong Kong

China is leading Asia reviving the global wine trade that had hit the buffers over the years. Vinexpo head Guillaume Deglise tells Sun Feier he’s confident the growing army of mainland wine aficionados will take the industry to greater heights.

Vinexpo CEO Guillaume Deglise believes that the tie-up with Alibaba Group’s Tmall would be a win-win game. (PARKER ZHENG / CHINA DAILY)

The Chinese mainland’s sheer economic might recognizes no boundaries — taking in the nation’s sprouting wine and spirits industry, with affluent Chinese wine connoisseurs geared to propelling the sector to a fresh crescendo over the next few years.

The bright synopsis comes from none other than Guillaume Deglise, who heads up Bordeaux-based Vinexpo — one of the most eminent international trade shows involved in bringing together wine and spirits professionals and exhibitors from around the world for the past two decades.

China is already the world’s fifth-largest wine consumption market and will “stand out” in value by 2021, predicts Deglise, as it joins other Asian countries in reversing a gradual years-long decline in the industry to meet new emerging markets amid exponential increases in the number of wine consumers.

When you look at the global market now, a trend is sparkling wine. Although this sector in China is not big yet, it’ll be bigger and bigger

Guillaume Deglise, chief executive officer of Vinexpo

Wine culture on the mainland has undergone tremendous changes since 1998 when the French-born exhibition first landed in Hong Kong with an eye on the Asia-Pacific wine business.

Previously, says Deglise — Vinexpo’s chief executive officer — the most significant factor among Chinese customers is the “purchasing power” of the bottle, but it has now given way to knowledge as the irreplaceable criterion in judging a true wine lover or collector.

“The most important thing now is that you’ll know what’s inside the bottle, and who the visitor or owner of the winery is,” he adds. “This is the real luxury.”

Other changes are equally important, like younger consumers’ preferences and women’s recognition of wine as something that’s more stylish than beer. These have also driven the market.

Chile and Australia have become two of the most important wine exporters for China and worldwide, boosted by their free trade arrangements with other countries. But, despite more free trade pacts being inked over the years, traditional global exporter France still plays a pivotal role in shipping wine to China, along with  Spain, which count much on the value, quality and the entrenched brand name of their products.

Europe, in fact, was well ahead of Asia in the wine and spirits trade before the first ever international show to be put together by Vinexpo 20 years ago. Following its birth in the red wine town of Bordeaux in 1981, the company has strived to become the key event for major global operators in the sector. Since 1989, the exhibition has become a reference guide for industry maestros in forecasting trends and new markets.

Vinexpo Hong Kong 2018, which was held in the city  late last month, drew 1,465 exhibitors from 30 countries during the three-day show — wine and spirits producers, plus visitors who are mainly importers, distributors, retailers and sommeliers.

Credentials validated

“The whole dynamics work like this. Vinexpo helps exhibitors promote their knowledge among the professionals who, in turn, channel it to consumers,” Deglise tells China Daily.

When the industry doyen joined ranks with Vinexpo Group five years ago, the company’s focus on exhibitions was the test-bed. The result validated Deglise’s credentials — his decisions and judgments — as Vinexpo data showed that the Asia- Pacific  accounted for more than 60 percent of the total amount of spirits consumed worldwide in 2012, with white spirit baijiu alone taking up 38 percent of the cake.

For 2018, Deglise is resolved that putting up the best possible show is his top priority.

New co-operation, he believes, would push the trade show to greater heights. One highlight is Vinexpo’s link-up with Tmall.com website — the main business-to-consumer platform of the mainland e-commerce and internet giant Alibaba Group.

Both parties introduced a “Future Bar” concept at this year’s Vinexpo Hong Kong, contributing to redefining traditional commerce by enabling seamless engagement between the online and offline worlds, building a retail ecosystem that connects both channels, and making the shopping experience more personal, engaging and convenient, said Mark Hu, president of Tmall’s fast moving consumer goods unit.

“Our collaboration with Alibaba started last year and will surely grow in future,” says Deglise. “It will help Vinexpo communicate in the wine industry through Alibaba’s vast network and, in return, Alibaba stands to benefit from the expertise gained through expos to become a key player in wine distribution.”

At the fair, visitors were greeted by a Tmall robot waiter before stepping into Alibaba’s booth via face scanning, where three bottles of red wine with varied history, the winery and the winemaker awaited them. Whichever bottle they chose, all the background information would be presented on the screen using Tmall technology.

Robot-friendly approach 

“The advanced human-computer interaction offers wine merchants and their customers a glimpse of the future. This robot-friendly approach is already in use in many five-star hotels in China, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea, and Tmall expects it to be applied elsewhere in the hospitality sector as well,” according to Vinexpo.

Many exhibited brands, such as Moet Hennessy, Diageo and Remy Martin, have launched flagship stores on the Tmall platform to get a full service solution on branding and “new retail” solutions created by Alibaba’s data capabilities. Linking up with the brand’s Tmall flagship store, customers can order wines online and opt for delivery methods, including self-pick service, at brick-and-mortar stores.

With the European and US markets witnessing a flat performance, the global world wine and spirits market has grown more reliant on Asia, which has enjoyed very solid growth in recent years.

China, by far, is the first destination of wine visitors, Deglise told Bloomberg Radio before the opening of Vinexpo Hong Kong 2018. Sophisticated wines are mainly consumed in big cities, but the market is now opening up in second- and third-tier cities on the mainland.

“When you look at the global market now, a trend is sparkling wine. Although this sector in China is not big yet, it’ll be bigger and bigger,” he predicts.

“And, you can feel that Chinese consumers are now eager to learn more about wine, they’re ready to taste wines from everywhere — not just one country but any production area or origins — so it’s a very good sign that the market is developing, being strong and very healthy in China.”

According to Deglise, a new trend in organic wine had taken Vinexpo’s exhibition center by storm this year, brought by more than 60 wine producers.

The consumption value of organic products in Asia in 2014 was estimated at $7.5 billion, more than half of which was from China, where organic shops are opening up, particularly in Beijing and Shanghai. Wine consumption is mirroring this trend and further growing and producing organic wines.

Since debuting last year, organic wine has been in vogue among a large number of participants seeking a clearly-defined organic offer to meet the needs of a booming market in 2018. At the 2018 Vinexpo Hong Kong, 62 international winemakers gathered around tasting tables to unravel the mystery in their wine glasses.

A workaholic — chateau trading to a wine lover

A 20-year veteran of the champagne industry since 1998, Guillaume Deglise’s association with Vinexpo started in his capacity as a customer of the global wine show exhibitor when he worked firstly at Bollinger and then Laurent-Perrier — two champagne houses —  which helped him to understand the requirements of the other side.

He approached Vinexpo five years ago on the strength of his experience and an unshakeable passion for the business. “The reason I wanted to tap into and remain in this industry has everything to do with my interest, and I very much like to work in the industry with a strong passion.”

In terms of management philosophy, Deglise believes that identifying a proper project and associating every employee with it is the way to take the group forward. Working seriously and conscientiously, but without making oneself too serious is his advice for Vinexpo’s staff.

“Business will not be a challenge. Having good workers with me is very important because you can never solve all the problems alone,” he insists.

Vinexpo press officer Camille Malavoy told China Daily she has full marks for her boss as he’s imbued with energy and responsibility.

Deglise calls himself a workaholic “when you really enjoy what you’re doing. Being busy all the time is fine”.

Looking back as the company’s top strategy maker, he reckons that making Vinexpo “very international” had been the best decision he had made, through which new exhibitions have started around the world and that the brand will go down as the authoritative reference for the entire wine business.

Two new shows are on the cards for Vinexpo over the next two years — in New York and Paris.

“When the show is already established, it’s much easier; otherwise you need to know the exhibition center, the promotion plan and many other details,” explains Deglise.

“You must convince people to come to your new show, and this is our main challenge.”

For the wine industry, being knowledgeable is the key to success as early entrepreneurs race to put their plans to the test.

But this industry is never a comfort zone, he says, and his teams constantly face challenges amid a competitive internal environment and aggressive players coming into the fray. Thus, being able to identify a company’s own project is very significant.

He tells young startup owners to take heart in their business endeavors. Having full confidence in projects is a good beginning and, at the same time, well begun is half done when it comes to the secret of successful entrepreneurship.

In the past two decades as Vinexpo came across inspiring stories that have positioned Vinexpo Hong Kong as the benchmark trade show in the Asia-Pacific, Deglise had also accomplished his career change — from chateau trading to wine event organizing — a wine lover who has paved the way for Vinexpo’s globalization, combined wine trading with frontier technology, and a witness to various changes in every aspect of society in the wine industry.

Contact the writer at joycesun@chinadailyhk.com

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