Alan Wang started up Alans Wines & Spirits in 2011

Alan Wang started up Alan's Wines & Spirits in 2011

Alan Wang was bitten by the wine bug while he was studying in California. When he returned to his native China in 2011, he started a wine store business that now has 86 outlets across China, catering to the growing demand from the country's middle-class consumers. Business is booming - Wang has plans to open 30 more stores this year - a situation he puts down to his decision to sell wine as a lifestyle rather than a product. His stores are decked out with flowers and also have cafés and spaces for events and tastings. "We are selling beauty, not wine," Wang said when just-drinks sat down with him during the 2017 China Food & Drinks Fair in Chengdu, the biggest wine & spirits exhibition in the country. He spoke about the changing face of the Chinese consumer and reveals what he looks for in wine before allowing it on his shelves.

just-drinks: The Chinese wine industry has changed a lot in the past few years. What do you think are the main differences?

Alan Wang: Before, we used to have a lot of fake wines, and super-cheap, very low-quality wines. But, it is changing now. More and more people like wine and they want to know about wines. We have all kinds of wine in our shops, and we teach people how to appreciate wines.

Also, I like to say that wine is not just for some people. It is for everybody. Now, more ordinary people are becoming interested in wine.

j-d: Why is that happening?

AW: The products are better. Also, there are more importers and the price is going down. In the past, the importers charged a very high price and made a lot of money. But now, we have wines for around CNY80 (US$11.75) per bottle, and that makes sense for people. They can drink them every day.

j-d: Why is it important for your stores to have cafés?

AW: We are not selling wines, we are selling a lifestyle. So, we decorate our roof with flowers to show people that we are not selling wine. When you buy a car you don't judge between a BMW and a Mercedes-Benz, you just choose which one you prefer. And Mercedes-Benz never gives you a discount - they maintain their quality. Our business has the same philosophy.

j-d: Wine has mainly been popular in the big cities in China. Is that changing?

AW: It is changing everywhere. We are opening up wine stores more in second- and third-tier cities. For example, we have just opened a store in a very small city in Liaoning province (one of China's smaller provinces).

j-d: Who are your customers?

AW: All kinds of people. A lot of people have very limited knowledge about wine, but they never refuse lifestyle. For example, our cafés sell coffee, and that is not the typical Chinese lifestyle. But, more and more people enjoy it.

j-d: You've already opened up 86 stores. Are you opening more this year?

AW: Thirty more. China is a big country.

j-d: It's also a big wine-consuming country and a lot of companies want to sell wine here. You must have a lot of wine companies talking to you.

AW: I have a lot of contacts as we are very careful about how we treat the wines. We care not only about the quality of the products but also the philosophy of the winery or the company.

j-d: What do you look for when choosing wines to stock in your store?

AW: That they are professional, and have good quality and price. And, that they have some marketing experience. We help with the marketing of the wines in China by hosting events at our stores.

j-d: Do you go looking for wines?

AW: Yes, I travel a lot. I've just got back from Australia where I saw some very interesting wine. From Victoria, they have some good stuff. Very different to Europe.

j-d: What new wines are Chinese consumers interested in?

AW: I heard that the Queen of England has produced some sparkling wine [Queen Elizabeth II is to sell 3,000 bottles made from grapes grown on one of her estates]. The Queen is selling wine now! I think that would be very popular if it came to China. I would love to try to try it myself.

Expert analysis

Global Wine Market 2016-2020

Global Wine Market 2016-2020

Wine is an alcoholic drink produced by the fermentation of grapes or other fruits. It has various health benefits, if consumed in adequate amounts....read more