China's national spirit: World's most consumed liquor to crack European market
Li Jianhua in London
Baijiu, China's national spirit, has traditionally been consumed in the country for centuries. The alcoholic drink with a distinct flavor profile is the world's most consumed liquor.
However, Chinese liquor is barely known in Europe.
In 2022, over 6.7 billion liters of baijiu was produced in China, according to the National Bureau of Statistics of China. In recent years, baijiu has been growing in popularity in Europe, leading to an increase in export from China to various countries in the region.
Regardless, the amount of baijiu exported was only a tiny fraction of its total production in the country. Zeng Congqin, Head of Wuliangye Yibin Company Limited – one of China's top alcoholic beverage companies – said only 0.24 percent of China's baijiu production was exported.
On Saturday, a delegation from China Alcoholic Drinks Association (CADA) arrived to sign an agreement with Paragraph, a company committed to delivering services within the drinks sector. The head of the delegation believes China needs to tell the baijiu story well to boost its exports.
"When it comes to drinking, there is a huge cultural difference between the Chinese and Westerners," said CADA's Yuan Yue. "The Chinese like drinking to socialize with others, and there must be Chinese food to go with it. We know the Chinese are keen about drinking etiquette, which is quite different."
Chinese baijiu 'going global'
On the first day of 2021, China's General Administration of Customs officially named the Chinese national spirit "Chinese baijiu" in English.
A year later, Chinese authorities proposed that baijiu producers should diversify their products, targeting young people and international consumers. These moves are considered in line with the "going global" strategy of Chinese baijiu.
"The internationalization of Chinese baijiu actually was planned a long time ago. At the very beginning, some top baijiu producers worked alone to export their products," Yuan told CGTN. "Now, CADA is planning to cooperate with the top Chinese baijiu producers to have more Chinese baijiu producers on board."
The strategy, to a certain extent, has increased baijiu's footprint, one example being the inception of World Baijiu Day in the UK.
Jim Boyce, founder of World Baijiu Day, said he had seen people "going from loathing baijiu to having an appreciation for it just by tasting a single flight of four or five brands."
David Valentine – the chairman of Valentine International Business Connections and a long-term bridge builder between the UK and China – said the European market for baijiu is very promising, but drinking the liquor neat, which comes in between 35 percent and 60 percent alcohol by volume, is hard to take for many Europeans.
"There needs to be experimentation," he said. "I have tasted fabulous baijiu mixed with fruit in a cocktail. So we need to present baijiu in a different way to the European people."