Will Baijiu Ever Become Fashionable?

95% Of Chinese 25-30 Year Olds Say Baijiu Not Their First Choice For Liquor, Preferring Imported Spirits

Wenjun, now majority owned by LVMH Moet Hennissey, began its rebranding efforts in 2007

Wenjun, now majority owned by LVMH Moet Hennissey, began its rebranding efforts in 2007

While many outside of China are unfamiliar with baijiu (literally “white spirit”), the tear-inducing, punch-packing traditional liquor of China (something of an ancestor to Japanese sake or Korean soju), it has long been the spirit of choice for many Chinese drinkers. Still ubiquitous on banquet tables throughout the country, baijiu’s hegemony in the Chinese alcohol market has only been seriously challenged in the last few decades, after China’s “reform and opening” process brought foreign spirits flowing back into the country after an essentially 30-year-long hiatus. However, in that short amount of time baijiu — much like the bicycles and Mao suits that characterized an earlier generation — has been sidelined by young urban Chinese in favor of BMWs and Prada, wine and whiskey.

Absent any real “retro” panache or the flashy advertisements of a brand like Absolut or Chivas Regal — and still carrying “old fashioned” or rural associations — baijiu risks losing out among a whole generation of more internationally minded, upwardly mobile drinkers. Though it still far and away dominates the Chinese spirits market by sales volume, this could change within a few decades if baijiu makers can’t figure out a way to tap the demand of younger revelers who care more about style and flavor than history and tradition. Despite the efforts of more premium baijiu brands like Wenjun55% owned by LVMH Moet Hennissey — or Quanxing (partly owned by Diageo) to increase the “hip” factor of baijiu in Shanghai hotspots, grape wine, whiskey and beer continue to reign supreme among Chinese 20-35 year olds.

This week, a “Sweet Wine News” (糖酒快讯) article looks into the gradual decline in interest in baijiu among younger Chinese, referencing the case of Wenjun, and asks the question, “Baijiu, Are you fashionable yet?” Translation by Jing Daily team.

By looking at the history of baijiu, we can see the customs, history and culture of China.

After thousands of years, baijiu has drifted from the lives of modern young people, replaced by “fashionable, sexy, romantic” foreign spirits. In one survey of alcohol consumption among younger (25-30 years of age) Chinese, 95% of respondents said baijiu was not their first choice of liquor. As the consumption of traditional Chinese baijiu contends with the realities of modern life, new challenges threaten the survival of baijiu. Simply put, the traditional Chinese liquor industry is getting old.

It used to be that baijiu could pretty much sell itself, but nowadays you don’t just sell a product, you sell a brand and culture. This has become a necessity for baijiu marketing.

It’s just that when we pull aside the curtain of marketing, so many brands crowd together, all of them breathlessly hyping their “flavor pedigree,” “family pedigree,” “green pedigree,” “rich pedigree,” “geographical pedigree,” “masculine (or feminine) pedigree” and so forth. We see “Long history” competing against. “authenticity,” “fine wine” vs. “imperial quality,” “300 year history” vs. “500 year history”…among the different brands, it’s not imitation, it’s blindly following trends. Products, packaging, names, they all just seem to be exactly the same.

Looking ahead, by pumping the well of traditional history and culture dry, the baijiu industry has made it impossible for people to discern a given brand’s advantages. Facing [a rack of different brands], consumers just see too many similarities and don’t know which to choose. And the “historical [Chinese] culture” cloned by these baijiu brands just feels archaic to people.

In recent years, [brands like] Wenjun, Shuijingfang,Yang He Blue Classic, Jinjiu and others have represented the new breed of baijiu, breathing fresh air into the baijiu industry and breaking free from the restraints of “tradition,” opening up new potential for fresh markets and revenue possibilities.

Wenjun distillery is one of the most valued brands in the Chinese baijiu industry. With 450 years of history, it originally focused on the low- to mid-end…but due to mismanagement the factory [eventually] went broke.

To survive, it had to [make the decision to] change or wait around to be made redundant. Although it’s hard to fall apart and put yourself back together, in 2007 Wenjun started to rebrand itself with a new fashionable angle.

1. Together with Hennissey, Wenjun combined East and West

Under the control of top luxury goods group Moet Hennissey, the principles of European luxury products and clear [market] positioning came together to create a completely new and modern baijiu.

2. Like an elegant poem, interpreting the principles of contemporary luxury

Centuries of history, combined with the language of modern luxury branding, created a completely new style of baijiu.

3. Top international packaging design, putting a new spin on traditional culture

Wenjun’s new bottle was designed by a top London design firm, and resembles a guqin (traditional Chinese lute — JD) hewn from transparent crystal. It’s elegant and stunning, and skillfully brings together history, culture and style.

4. Incorporating a red wine marketing model to build Asia’s finest wine estate

In May 2009 the Wenjun Chateau had its grand opening in Qionglai, Sichuan province. As the first baijiu estate in Asia, the opening of the Chateau was a landmark event.

5. Focus on quality

Wenjun specially invited top China baijiu mixologist Wu Xiaoping to assume a leading support role, consulting on how to ensure bottles are best cellared.

Wenjun has bravely taken the first steps, from outside to inside, to provoke a new attitude of curiosity among wine lovers. It’s now brandishing its new fashionable style.

Behind baijiu there are thousands of years of rich Chinese history, but a new perspective can shed new light on it. When blindly promoting the spirit of traditional Chinese culture eventually hits a dead end, [as it has,] the Chinese baijiu industry should broaden its horizons and incorporate a more modern style and really try to understand the demands of people today.

When [contemporary] style and [traditional] culture join hands, there’s a kind of chemical reaction, one that restores the verve of culture along with the elegance of spirits. Should Chinese baijiu “drunkenly” dance with modern style, it’ll definitely find new life and make great progress.

Categories

Culture, Food, Wine, & Spirits