Glob­al­iz­ing the Chi­nese spirit

China Daily (Canada) - - DEPTH - By EM­MAGON­ZA­LEZ

Now that the busi­ness of bai­jiu, the Chi­nese in­tox­i­cat­ing drink, is looking to ex­pand be­yond Asia, in­dus­try ex­perts note there are still some no­table ob­sta­cles on its way to suc­cess.

1. Brand­ing. Be­cause the white spirit is a tra­di­tional drink strongly em­bed­ded in China’s his­tory, bai­jiu pro­duc­ers have only opted for con­ser­va­tive de­signs that are at­trac­tive to lo­cal con­sumers.

In­dus­try ex­perts note that most for­eign­ers find it ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to pro­nounce and re­mem­ber the names of China’s main brands, re­quir­ing pro­duc­ers to come up with more in­ter­na­tional names if they want to crack for­eign mar­kets.

Ad­di­tion­ally, bai­jiu bot­tles are in des­per­ate need of more cos­mopoli­tan and in­ter­est­ing shapes to ap­peal to in­ter­na­tional au­di­ences.

“If you look at the tra­di­tional bai­jiu pack­ag­ing, they all seem to be com­pet­ing to be the one that looks more tra­di­tional and more Chi­nese,” saidMatt Tr­usch, CEO of Bye­joe, a US pro­ducer and dis­trib­u­tor of bai­jiu mix drinks. “They re­ally never thought of com­ing up with some­thing re­ally ex­cit­ing.”

2. Drink­ing cul­ture. Bai­jiu is the fa­vorite drink on the Chi­nese ta­ble dur­ing spe­cial oc­ca­sions such as hol­i­days and wed­dings. The white liquor is also ubiq­ui­tous dur­ing busi­ness meals in China.

How­ever, Western con­sumers do not have any cul­tural at­tach­ment to the liquor and tend to clash with the tra­di­tional bai­jiu drink­ing rit­ual.

In China, con­sumers of the liquor are en­cour­aged to drink glass af­ter glass, yet this cus­tom can be con­sid­ered ex­clud­ing to those who pre­fer to slowly en­joy their spir­its.

“In China, you usu­ally need to fin­ish your glass when toast­ing with bai­jiu,” ex­plained Matthias Heger, co-founder of Cap­i­tal Spir­its. “How­ever, this is un­ac­cept­able for some­one in the West who has been taught to sip the spirit to ap­pre­ci­ate its fla­vor.”

Women­have also of­ten felt ex­cluded in the prac­tices of drink­ing the liquor be­cause they pre­fer to con­sume spir­its with lower al­co­holic con­tent and sweeter fla­vors.

“We are try­ing to mod­ern­ize the drink­ing rit­ual,” said Tr­usch of Bye­joe. “Be­cause our drinks taste like cock­tails, it at­tracts women to drink it, en­gag­ing them in the bai­jiu drink­ing rit­ual.”

Cap­i­tal Spir­its be­lieves that most pro­duc­ers of the white spirit have failed to un­der­stand that there is a need to first ed­u­cate con­sumers in theWest about the drink and the way it is con­sumed.

“It is not about in­tro­duc­ing a new­brand, you ac­tu­ally

The main chal­lenge ... out­side of China is the unique fla­vor pro­file of We are try­ing to mod­ern­ize the drink­ing rit­ual. Be­cause our drinks taste like cock­tails ...”

need to in­tro­duce a whole new cat­e­gory to the con­sumer,” noted Heger of Cap­i­tal Spir­its. “Putting it in a new bot­tle is only a small part of the process.”

3. Palates. De­spite the in­creas­ing in­ter­est in ex­port­ing the drink, the white liquor is not a love at first shot for most for­eign­ers.

China’s largest bai­jiu pro­duc­ers have been gen­er­ally re­luc­tant to in­tro­duce new fla­vors or to en­ter the readyto-drink mar­ket.

“Many brand own­ers of bai­jiu have spent years build­ing up and main­tain­ing their brand her­itage and pre­mium cre­den­tials,” wrote Jonny Forsyth, global drinks an­a­lyst at Min­tel Re­search. “Such cre­den­tials usu­ally in­volve drink­ing bai­jiu ‘neat’, rather than mix­ing it, some­thing that would dis­si­pate the nu­anced fla­vors of lux­ury bai­jiu ex­pres­sions.”

Chi­nese like very strong smells in bai­jiu and that is not nec­es­sar­ily some­thing ap­peal­ing for for­eign­ers.

“The main chal­lenge for adop­tion out­side of China is the unique fla­vor pro­file of bai­jiu,” added Steaven Chen, prin­ci­pal at CNS Im­ports. “Imag­ine grow­ing up on Amer­i­can cheese and switch­ing right to Epoisses (a French cheese known for its pun­gency).”

In­fus­ing fla­vors and us­ing drink mixes are ex­pected to help for­eign con­sumers to as­sim­i­late the drink faster.

“The rea­son why we serve bai­jiu cock­tails at the bar is be­cause so many for­eign­ers are scared of the raw and pure bai­jiu and they don’t want to try it,” ex­plained Wil­liam Isler, co-founder of Cap­i­tal Spir­its. “The cock­tails help us to break the men­tal block.”

JIANG DONG / CHINA DAILY

Work­ers at the pro­duc­tion line of the famed bai­jiu Moutai at Moutai town in Guizhou prov­ince.

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