Lorenzo Riccardi has visited all 193 member countries of the United Nations. Visited all of China’s 34 provincial-level areas. And all of its 56 UNESCO sites, too.
Riccardi regularly writes for top Italian newspapers. He can help you with your taxes–he heads the consultancy RsA asia. And is involved with Wine to Asia, which will feature a baijiu cocktail master lab on August 13.
He’s a busy globe-trotting guy! And now his company has created something that might help make the world’s most-consumed spirit — baijiu — as worldly as Riccardi!
It’s a quick intro, with a focus on the business side, that covers baijiu’s market share, the leading producers, export and import data and more, plus general background on the spirit. It’s both handy as a primer for newcomers and loaded with useful stats and data for those who are already know the basics. And should underscore the significance, and the potential, of this spirt.
Check it out below.
Baijiu: The multi-billion business of Chinese liquor
Baijiu, which literally means “white liquor”, is a national treasure of China. The birthplace of this grain-based spirit, with a typical range of 35% to 60% alcohol by volume, can be placed in the central China provinces of Sichuan and Guizhou, where the most important and reputable manufacturers are established.
Baijiu’s popularity is spread across China. It can be found at every banquet and celebration, from wedding receptions to social gatherings. It is an essential part of the local business culture and is traditionally served straight as “bottoms up” shots during intense dinners to build trust and friendship. High-end baijiu represents a prestigious gift offered to foreign dignitaries and has been used for toasts at diplomatic events, including the 1972 historic visit of US President Nixon to the People’s Republic of China.
Production and consumption of this grain-based distilled spirit, which can be made using sorghum, wheat, rice and other grains fermented with an agent called qu, dates back more than one thousand years. Today, it stands as the most-consumed alcoholic drink in China. According to the latest data released by CADA, the China Alcoholic Drinks Association, baijiu sales accounted for 70% of alcoholic drinks industry revenue in 2020, far ahead of beer, grape wine and others.
Baijiu comes in rich styles, such as strong aroma (accounting for over half of baijiu sales in 2020), sauce aroma (27% of sales), and light aroma (15% of sales), styles that differ across geographical regions. Sichuan is the largest manufacturer, with total output of almost 3.7 million kiloliters, accounting for half of China’s production, and 53 of the top 200 manufacturers are based in that province.
Baijiu production decreased from 13.6 million kiloliters in 2016 to 7.4 million kiloliters in 2020 even as sales revenue reached 584 billion RMB in 2020, up from 562 billion RMB in 2019. Meanwhile, the number of manufacturers fell from 1,600 in 2017 to 1,040 in 2020 due to consolidation and market concentration. Among these producers, 19 are large public companies listed on the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock markets that together account for 41% of market share.
The top manufacturers are Kweichow Moutai (its sales account for 17% of the industry total), followed by Wuliangye (10%), Yanghe (4%), and Luzhou Laojiao (3%), all primarily focused on producing high-end baijiu.
Kweichow Moutai is among the most reputable baijiu manufacturers, with almost 95 billion RMB of its 98 billion RMB in sales from baijiu sales. Established in Zunyi, Guizhou Province, Moutai is one of most valuable brands worldwide, with a market capitalization exceeding 2,600 billion RMB (around 400 billion USD). Moutai is a very prestigious brand, focused on strong aroma baijiu, and its high-end bottles are considered a status symbol due to high prices that easily exceed 1,000 RMB.
Wuliangye, with its headquarters in Yibin, Sichuan Province, is the second-largest manufacturer and focused on strong aroma baijiu. Its baijiu sales totaled 44 billion RMB and its market value exceeded 1,160 billion RMB (around 170 billion USD).
Other large public companies with baijiu sales exceeding 10 billion RMB include Jiangsu Yanghe (Mengzhilan), Luzhou Laojiao, Shanxi Fenjiu, Beijing Shunxin (Niulanshan) and Anhui Gujing. Besides the most prominent producers, other smaller brands are appreciated, such as Shuijingfang, Laobaigan and Gongjiu, as well as lower-end baijius like Red Star Erguotou.
Today’s market requires baijiu manufacturers to innovate, constantly improve production technology and pay more attention to new consumers, both in China and abroad. Baijiu’s major consumer group is older generations, with younger Chinese consumers showing less affection for the white spirit and preferring other alcoholic drinks, such as Western spirits, wine, cocktails and beer.
Baijiu is also increasingly welcomed outside the country, with a growing number of foreign consumers starting to appreciate the strong flavors. World Baijiu Day, the idea of a Canadian living in China, is celebrated each August 9 (8 “ba” and 9 “jiu” sound similar to baijiu). The event has been held since 2015 to help people worldwide better know China’s national spirit.
Thanks to Lorenzo Riccardi and RsA asia for the use of this information