China lifts French cognac exports to record high as consumers rediscover taste for luxury

US spirits market also strong, but wine sales down by volume and producers worry about their prospects in China and Brexit Britain

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 February, 2017, 1:15pm
UPDATED : Friday, 10 February, 2017, 1:15pm

Strong cognac sales from Chinese consumers helped France notch up record exports of wine and spirits for a second straight year in 2016, but the amount of wine sold declined, industry figures show.

Sales abroad rose 1.2 per cent to 11.9 billion (HK$98.4 billion, US$12.4 billion) last year, with spirits making up a third of the total and cognac alone hitting an all-time export high, according to the French Federation of Exporters of Wines and Spirits (FEVS) said on Thursday.

The figures showed that while the amount of wine sold declined – France fell behind Italy as the world’s biggest wine producer two years ago – the product that was sold was of higher quality than in previous years and hence sold for a higher price.

Alcohol is now France’s second-biggest export sector after the aerospace industry.

Cognac was the star product in 2016, showing a 5.5 per cent rise in sales, with drinkers in the United States happy to pay premium prices and Chinese customers rediscovering their taste for luxury, too.

Wine sales dropped 1.8 per cent, continuing a downward trend in terms of volume, and in value.

The post-Brexit vote drop in the value of the pound hit the important British market, with a sharp 10 per cent drop in wine sales.

However, France’s main market, the US, was strong and accounted for 2.8 billion of business, equivalent to one quarter of the overall sales, “mainly thanks to a euro-dollar parity that was favourable to our exports”, says FEVS president Christophe Navarre.

China returned with a bang after a lean few years, with a 12.7 per cent rise in sales, but French wine producers said they feared the key Chinese market was fragile.

“Our competitors such as Chile have agreements with China, where they no longer pay any customs taxes, while we still pay quite high taxes,” says Philippe Casteja, a Saint-Emilion-based producer, who was speaking on behalf of Bordeaux wines.