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What is a Hong Kong Wine Importer?

By Debra Meiburg MW

Perhaps it’s a good time to clear up a couple of facts about how Hong Kong’s wine trade actually works. For one thing, unlike wine businesses in more heavily regulated markets (nearly every other wine market in the world), Hong Kong importers, distributors and retailers are often one and the same company. This is a useful difference for consumers, who can go directly to the importer to purchase wine, occasionally at close to wholesale prices.

However, there is a flipside: along with zero-tax legislation implemented in February 2008, in June 2008 the Hong Kong Government completely de-regulated the wine import industry so that import businesses need no longer acquire a license, nor supply certificates of origin or even health certificates to bring in wine. With such low barriers to entry (the chief complaint of 63% of Hong Kong importers), the market has become crowded, fragmented and confusing.

For example, very few retailers exist that don’t bring in some wine of their own, and if an importer hasn’t invested in a traditional retail outlet, they will typically create a showroom in a high-rise building that doubles as their office. Most established importers also maintain active wine clubs or private client lists, ensuring they have all their bases covered.

Some are also branching into e-commerce, although not as many as one might imagine given the convenience of delivery within the city. Hong Kong is still not yet a very strong e-commerce retail environment generally (perhaps it’s the very convenience of the city that makes its citizens reluctant to wait for a delivery). Also, those that work extensively with the F&B sector tend to be averse to posting their prices on the internet for fear of angering their key clients. Importers can generally be contacted by phone or email for their list, but the payment process is fairly tedious (often cash on delivery or a telephone call to read out credit card information, as opposed to an online payment gateway).

So how many businesses have decided to enter the fray? Estimates as to the number of Hong Kong wine importers range wildly from 100 to 3,000; one of the main reasons we decided to compile a definitive list. Having completed our research, our estimate is now in the 300-350 range, but exporters should be warned that many of these are small operators or trading companies simply interested in quick buy/sell transactions, often stocking wine alongside dried cuttlefish, fermented bean curd or even quality Italian leather footwear (of 254 importers that answered an extensive business survey for our book, Guide to the Hong Kong Wine Trade, only 52 sell nothing but wine).

300 is still a remarkable number of wine importers for a city this size; as a point of comparison, New York City has around 110. As wine became increasingly trendy, we saw wine-loving parents encourage their adult kids to import one or two brands, usually wineries they visited on holiday, which may account for the relatively large number of portfolios with only 1-10 brands (21%), sales teams of only 1-2 people (25%) and businesses that one frustrated winemaker described as having “little concept of the fundamentals required to make the wine business prosperous for suppliers.” “It appears” the winemaker went on to say “their drive is all about building their own brand and status.”

While there are several relatively successful smaller importers, we noted it was normally established, larger firms that were the subject of winemaker “shout-outs.” The smaller businesses that were critiqued are generally not “boutique” firms, in the way many small US and UK firms are; the occasional winery reported that they appreciated working with smaller importers because they felt they received their full attention. Generally, non wine-related products (including foods) in the portfolio are a sign to steer clear or else risk ending up like another winemaker who responded to our question about the order size and frequency of their Hong Kong importer: “HK only 1 so far.”

(As published in South China Morning Post)

Comments 15 Comments for “What is a Hong Kong Wine Importer?”
  1. Alan Crowley MW on 08.29.12 at 22:04

    Good to get such a useful summary of the Hong Kong wine importers scene.

  2. Carol Wing on 09.03.12 at 16:34

    Dear Debra,
    Thanks for sharing your great analysis and elaboration on the Hong Kong wine importership with us. On my path of being an wine importer so far since last year, I am becoming more familarize with all the challenges of being an importer. I started my wine business last year because I really like wine and everything behind the winemaking. I like my winemakers because I know they endeavour to make a good wine with their total family effort. That’s why I want to be their exclusive wine importer because it’s a commitment, respect and appreciation to them and their family. Besides, wine is an in-depth education covering a lot of different aspects and element. To appreciate wine as a winelover is totally different from being an wine importer who requires more up-to-date business mindset, wine knowledge, management skill and different business tactics…etc. Digital marketing, e-commerce and social media networks are the keys to sell the wine on the market today. I have been trying very hard and very best to be a responsible and committed wine importer to help my wineries to build their brand on the market to sell the wine. However, the current marketplace situation make me feel very confused and frustrated. I came across a virtual experience that was one of my recent offer of exclusive wine had already been listed on an importer’s web. It’s because these listed wines were the sample wines he bought from that winery last year without the winemaker’s consent of listing their wine as an importer. These listings have caused me barrier to build this brand and set my pricing strategy. This is the current marketplace situation. I know quite a lot of young winelovers started the wine business on line after completion of WSET courses. These current realistic market situation lead me to think through the role of being a proper wine importer. To us, we need to bear a lot of cost and resources to create and develop an appropriate wine culture for the on-going wine hub development. However, the fast booming up very low-cost online wine market seems to cause some contradiction to our proper role. In my recent China market exploration, I envison Hong Kong’s role of being a wine hub is just a stepping stone to help mainland China to become an international icon in the global wine market. I believe sooner or later, our status of being a wine hub will be transformed and transferred to mainland when ready. Debra, you are a highly respectful and influential Wine Master in this industry. I sincerely hope you may think through how to secure Hong Kong’s position of being a permanent and professional wine hub. Please share us more education on the role of being an importer. Many thanks. Best regards, Carol Wing

  3. Debra Meiburg MW on 09.04.12 at 09:20

    Such an interesting post, Carol. Thank you so very much for taking the time to share your insights and learnings. Debra

  4. Importer | English Language Tutorials on 09.27.12 at 21:58

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  5. Hugo on 11.06.12 at 21:17

    Debra, i’m trying to get in touch with some wine importers in hong kong, maybe you can help me. thanks!!

  6. Debra Meiburg MW on 11.07.12 at 10:06

    Hi Hugo, The best help I can offer is a link to our book, “Guide to the Hong Kong Wine Trade 2012”. It is a directory of 350 importers/distributors in Hong Kong, plus information about the size of their firms, portfolio composition, market insights, etc. It includes 60+ pages of market research and insights regarding wine related business and societies in Hong Kong, such as storage, logistics, wine societies, PR firms, competitions, exhibitions, etc. In case of interest, here’s a link:

    http://debramasterofwine.com/products/educational/debra-meiburgs-guide-to-the-hong-kong-wine-trade/

    Wishing you every success in our markets!

  7. Ken on 11.23.14 at 19:10

    Me, belong to a wine importer in Hong Kong, hope to get in touch with Hugo….

  8. west on 03.23.16 at 16:49

    Dear Debra, may we know if your book is up to date till 2016? and or are you able to update it?

    Thanks,

  9. Debra Meiburg MW on 03.25.16 at 13:59

    Thanks for asking! Presently we are working on a Guide to Guangdong Province, so do not intend to update the Hong Kong book yet. We’re working to e-conversion, which will make it easier to update the directory portions of the book in realtime. That said, 95% of the entries are valid, so don’t despair. The key importers remain the same!

  10. Debra Meiburg MW on 05.15.16 at 20:37

    Most of the information is still very current as the names we showed are established businesses with owner-managers, etc. Of course there will always be new companies starting and management changes, so we’ll aim to update again, but not this year. At present we’re working on a Guide to the Guangdong (Canton) Wine Trade. We’ll try to keep you posted!

  11. Wino on 04.29.16 at 10:30

    Hi Deborah, I am a student doing an assignment on whether it is viable for a wine company to acquire a distributor in Hong Kong. Can you provide us with any recommendations or insight?

  12. kalpesh on 05.03.16 at 12:55

    we are manufacturer of wine in india and are intrested to export the same to hong kong, can you help us with the
    importers details of hong kong.
    india contact mobile number..+91 7777911999
    name Kalpesh Patel

  13. Debra Meiburg MW on 05.15.16 at 20:34

    Hi Kalpesh, Unfortunately we are not importers, so I cannot help directly, but if you need information on the markets, lists of importers, etc., we’ve published several books on the topic – all are on the website.

    Guide to Hong Kong Wine Trade 2012

    Guide to Hong Kong Wine Trade 2014
    
Guide to the Shanghai Wine Trade 2014 

    Guide to the Singapore Wine Trade 2015
    Guide to the Beijing Wine Trade 2015
    Guide to the Taiwan Wine Trade 2016

    The books include a comprehensive list of importers/distributors in these markets, plus information about the size of their firms, portfolio composition, market insights, etc., as well as market research and advice to winemakers based on this information. You will see that there are two Hong Kong books: the 2012 focuses on the mechanics of the importers whereas the 2014 includes the above directories, etc. but the market research focuses more on the retail sector. 
 In case of interest, here’s a link to the guides:

    http://debramasterofwine.com/products/educational/debra-meiburgs-guide-to-the-hong-kong-wine-trade/

    It’s a little early for Indian wine in HK, but definitely you could start with Indian restaurants! You might check out this site to see the types of Indian restaurants are in HK (about 200). http://www.openrice.com/en/hongkong/restaurants/cuisine/indian

  14. kalpesh on 05.03.16 at 12:56

    urgently need contacts who can purchase a load of wines ASAP

  15. Debra Meiburg MW on 05.15.16 at 20:35

    Unfortunately we are not importers, so I cannot help directly, but if you need information on the markets, lists of importers, etc., we’ve published several books on the topic – all are on the website.

    Guide to Hong Kong Wine Trade 2012

    Guide to Hong Kong Wine Trade 2014
    
Guide to the Shanghai Wine Trade 2014 

    Guide to the Singapore Wine Trade 2015
    Guide to the Beijing Wine Trade 2015
    Guide to the Taiwan Wine Trade 2016

    The books include a comprehensive list of importers/distributors in these markets, plus information about the size of their firms, portfolio composition, market insights, etc., as well as market research and advice to winemakers based on this information. You will see that there are two Hong Kong books: the 2012 focuses on the mechanics of the importers whereas the 2014 includes the above directories, etc. but the market research focuses more on the retail sector. 
 In case of interest, here’s a link to the guides:

    http://debramasterofwine.com/products/educational/debra-meiburgs-guide-to-the-hong-kong-wine-trade/

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