Hongkongers are drinking more wine than ever, and of a higher quality - proof that the city has become a mature, important international wine market, says Robert Beynat, founder and chief executive of the Vinexpo wine show.
The show is the world's leading event in the wine trade, with 2,400 exhibitors and up to 50,000 visitors expected to attend its June edition in Bordeaux.
In a run-up to the show, Beynat was in Hong Kong yesterday, releasing the results of an annual worldwide study undertaken by the International Wine and Spirits Research (IWSR) organisation. It predicts that from 2007 to 2016, consumption by volume will grow by 161 per cent while consumption by value will grow by 167 per cent.
Mainland consumption has risen by the fastest rate in the world, by 142 per cent from 2007 to 2011, to reach 1.4 litres per head. Worldwide consumption grew 2.8 per cent in that period.
Hong Kong was increasingly important as a wine hub, Beynat said, re-exporting 40 per cent of its imports, or two million cases of wine per year. By 2016, wine lovers worldwide will be buying US$183 billion worth of the beverage per year.
The survey results also highlight the unique characteristics of the Hong Kong and mainland wine markets.
Hong Kong has the region's highest annual consumption, at 5.3 litres per person - double the Japanese and Singaporean levels. But it is still dwarfed by French and Italian consumption, which is just under 10 times that level.
Mainland wine lovers bought 159 million cases in 2011, while Hongkongers bought 3.48 million cases, or 41.7 million bottles.
Worldwide red wine is the preferred drink, at around 55 per cent of all wine purchased. But that preference is much stronger on the mainland, at 90 per cent, and in Hong Kong at 80 per cent.
The discrepancy with other markets is especially noticeable with sparkling wines, the fastest-growing category globally, expected to grow to 8.5 per cent of total consumption by 2016. Yet sparkling wines now account for just 3.6 per cent of total consumption in Hong Kong.
Beynat said the low consumption level was due to a lack of familiarity with the drink, and pricing that was probably aimed more at tourists than locals. "As Hong Kong gets richer and more developed, it will drink more champagne," Beynat said.
Growth in consumption is coming at the premium end of the market. That means, for Vinexpo and IWSR purposes wine that costs more than US$10 a bottle. In Hong Kong, purchases of wine at under US$5 a bottle are expected to decline by 20 per cent by 2016, while sales of wines priced at over US$10 will increase by 33 per cent.
The mid-range is tipped to grow 66 per cent. Worldwide, the under-US$5 segment is expected to grow by 3 per cent to 2016, or to 67 per cent of wines drunk.
Beynat said Hong Kong's preference for more expensive wines was a result of the 48 million tourists visiting annually and the lack of storage space in homes. Drinkers are more likely to consume wine at restaurants and bars than buy it retail.
Beynat said most of Hong Kong's wine shops were specialists, selling high-quality wines. "Distribution is different, meaning higher prices," he said.