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Gong Xi Fa Cai! Booming baijiu defies China slowdown

Gong Xi Fa Cai! Booming baijiu defies China slowdown

As Chinese New Year gathers momentum, analysts are predicting it will be the litmus test of the resilience of the Chinese consumer ... and their favourite CNY tipple: baijui.

In 2018, Chinese spent 926 billion yuan ($US137billion) at restaurants and stores celebrating in the Year of the Dog.

This year, holiday purchases are predicted to account for about one-quarter of total sales for Kweichow Moutai Co, China's number no.1 producer of the liquor.

Moutai has foreshadowed a 25% increase in earnings for 2018, and sales growth of 14% for this year. Fellow producer Wuliangye expects its 2018 earnings to jump as much as 40%.

Chinese shoppers buy the liquor as a gift and for toasts at the family table during the country's biggest holiday.

While one bottle can cost as much as a month’s salary for a minimum-wage Beijing worker, consumers were joining wait lists for supplies last month.  

As Derek Sandhaus, author of Baijiu: The Essential Guide to Chinese Spirits, explains: "Putting a $3000 bottle on the table is saying 'this is how much I like you'."

Can baijiu go global?

Drinks influencers are predicting that 2019 will be baijui's year. 

Chowhound declared it was "the hottest new spirit to try in 2019".

Steaven Chen, owner of CNS Imports, an American company largely responsible for bringing various brands of baijiu to the US, said: “There’s been a lot of interest from the brands in China to do more marketing in the U.S. Baijiu has been around for hundreds of years, but they are now wanting to share their spirits with the rest of the world.”

Meanwhile, Food & Wine noted: "Why Baijiu Is the Liquor You Need to Know".

Yuchen Zhong, the co-founder of the baijiu education firm Yuan Kun told the site: "Baijiu is a huge industry, but in many ways, it's still a young one. Most distilleries don't know how to build or manage a modern company, and they have no idea what wine, sake, or whiskey brands are doing.

"Distilleries have been shifting the palate of their products in recent years, towards a lighter flavor and body, and a lower ABV. They also started developing sub-brands that employ more fashionable designs. Even traditional baijiu is trying to look prettier."

Matthew Voss, the head bartender at Marvel Bar in Minneapolis, added: "Everything that makes it a challenge is what makes it special, though. Maybe because of the saturation of upstart breweries and distilleries—many of which are putting out similar things—people will start looking for something new. And they can be led to baijiu. It's one of my favorite things to put in front of people because it’s a button-pusher. People have strong opinions for and against it, but a lot of the people who love flavor in particular are really challenged by it. That’s not something we get to experience much anymore."

Guizhou Moutai noted in a statement last month that it is dedicated to taking the brand to a global audience.

To "keep up with the times" and "continuously expand its vision" it is turning its focus to present itself on the international stage in "a more disciplined and confident manner".

In late December 2018, Guizhou Moutai wrapped up a successful marketing project named "MoutaiLab – Dr. Mou". The project is centered on a series of videos posted on Facebook and YouTube, in which a baijiu (white spirit) expert was invited to show Moutai fans and explain to them in simple terms how to identify quality baijiu through interesting experiments.

The four videos, which went a bit deeper from one to the next as they focused on the quality, aromas, tastes and changes of baijiu, offered a chance for more people to learn about baijiu and appreciate its unique appeal. The videos generated close to 6 million views and created lots of buzz for the brand.

Watch one below: