Chinese Distillers Maotai & Wuliangye Enter “Most Valuable Luxury Brands” List, Claim Not To Be Luxury

8th Hurun Research Institute Report Finds Maotai More Valuable Than Mercedes-Benz and Chanel

The top brand of 2010 among NobleChinese readers: Wuliangye baijiu

The top brand of 2010 among NobleChinese readers: Wuliangye baijiu

This week, the Shanghai-based research firm Hurun Report issued its latest list of the world’s most valuable luxury brands, and alongside global stalwarts such as Louis Vuitton and Hermes in the top ten were two Chinese standouts — the baijiu distilleries Maotai (茅台) and Wuliangye (五粮液). In all, French brands accounted for four spots in the top ten, Germany and China two each, and one each from Italy and Switzerland. Breaking categories down further, the list was composed of four fashion brands, two auto brands, two spirits brands, and two watch brands. Noticeably absent from this year’s list were Apple — which would have topped the list, had it been considered a luxury brand this time around — and the Chinese cigarette maker Zhonghua (中华), which would have ranked sixth, ahead of Chanel.

Led by Louis Vuitton, here is the Hurun Report’s top ten most valuable luxury brands for 2011, ranked by brand value:

1.) Louis Vuitton (France): US$20.5 billion
2.) Hermes (France): $14.5 billion
3.) BMW (Germany): $13 billion
4.) Maotai (China): $12 billion
5.) Mercedes-Benz (Germany): $10 billion
6.) Chanel (France): $9 billion
7.) Wuliangye (China): $7 billion
8.) Gucci (Italy): $6.5 billion
9.) Rolex (Switzerland): $6 billion
10.) Cartier (France): $5.9 billion

While most brands would be thrilled to be included in such a list, yesterday Maotai spokesman Ye Yuanhong (叶远鸿) categorically disavowed his brand’s inclusion, telling Chinese media, “In regards to being included in Hurun’s luxury brand list, Maotai has never claimed itself eligible to be considered a luxury brand. We don’t know anything about Hurun’s list, and wish to distance ourselves from it.”

Maotai has had a very uncomfortable relationship with the word “luxury” for quite some time. In November 2011, stories broke among Chinese media that Maotai would apply to be listed as an “international luxury brand.” As the story went viral, Maotai Group Honorary Chairman, Ji Keliang (季克良) denied that Maotai had such plans, saying he is “opposed to Maotai baijiu being referred to as a luxury good.” In response to Maotai’s statements, Wuliangye Group chairman, Tang Qiao (唐桥) said his company’s baijiu also is not a luxury good, saying that wines like Chateau Lafite — which see massive price fluctuations — belong in the luxury segment. Funny coming from brands that produce bottles of baijiu that (when new) can cost US$20,000 or more per bottle, or (at auction) 20 times that.

Still, the humble statements put out this week by Maotai and Wuliangye aren’t that surprising from a Chinese perspective. As Future Marketing Advisory Group (未来营销咨询集团) chairman Li Zhiqi (李志起) told Jinghua Daily (京华时报) yesterday, though brands like Maotai and Wuliangye count as luxury brands purely from a price standpoint, they lack the “luxury brand genes” of a Gucci or Mercedes-Benz. As such, they’ve got a great deal of brand-building left to do before they can stand alongside European luxury giants. As Li added, since they don’t have the global draw of other brands on Hurun’s top ten, and are infused with “Chinese-ness,” the actual brand value from a worldwide standpoint of Chinese brands like Maotai and Wuliangye are not yet clear.

Altogether, it’s been an interesting week for the “non-luxury-brand” Maotai. Another list put out this week by the Hurun Report — focusing on the top ten high-end brands for Chinese millionaires to give as gifts — listed Maotai as #5, just ahead of Apple.


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