Accueil / / The Lexicon project, or how the Australians are learning to speak to the Chinese

The Lexicon project, or how the Australians are learning to speak to the Chinese

By all accounts, the Chinese market is entering a new phase in its development and with this comes new challenges and the need for more refined marketing strategies. With funding from the Australian Wine & Grape Authority and the federal government, a group of researchers from the University of South Australia defined a lexicon to bridge the gap between Western wine descriptors and their Chinese equivalents. Professor Larry Lockshin, one of the principal investigators, outlines the results and reveals how much of a long term proposition the Chinese wine market really is.
Par Sharon Nagel Le 10 janvier 2017
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The Lexicon project, or how the Australians are learning to speak to the Chinese
hat is the uptake on the findings within the industry since they were published?

As one of the funders, it is Wine Australia’s responsibility to take the results out to the industry. The wine flavours card was made available to wine exporters into China and to their distributors/agents. We understand that it’s being used, including back in the winery to put on back labels of wine and to help describe wines. We did some follow-up through another project involving Asian (65% Chinese) students who have come to study in Australia. Based on this and research conducted in China we found that more than 50% of people are comfortable using Western terms, like blackberry, in Mandarin. We think this is because in China, much of the wine training over a long period of time originally came out of France and then the WSET. So there’s a whole layer of people who have got Western training and a Western viewpoint using Western terms. Our understanding is that the wine flavours card will have a longer term effect as it is adopted by newer wine drinkers and people in the industry trying to reach the younger generations, the 20-25 year olds coming out of university. Of note is the fact that our sample up until recently was imported wine drinkers, so they’re not totally novice consumers. These people are already exposed to imported wine and it’s not surprising they have some predilection for the Western ways of describing it. We didn’t find that the presentation of language influenced liking though.

As Chinese tastes in wine evolve and become more mature will the descriptors used evolve?

I don’t really know. There has been so little research anywhere on how consumers describe wine, or how they use terminology. If consumers are measured, they are usually expert consumers, who are trained in wine before being measured. If we compare with the US, when I grew up, there was maybe a hard core of 10-12% of alcohol drinking adults drinking wine - it’s more than double now – but people nevertheless used words filtering down from the trade and WSET. They were using terms stemming from say Peynaud, where standardisation and categorisation of flavours came from originally. It hasn’t changed a lot since then. So I don’t know if it’s going to change in China a lot.

Is it possible that Chinese consumers base their wine preferences on their ability to describe them rather than on their actual taste?

In most countries, preferences stem from what we have been in contact with. The ubiquitous soft drinks in America have most probably influenced the taste profiles favoured by American consumers. What you first learn tends to be the basis. We are studying the way Chinese consumers at the younger end take up wine and it really has as much to do with a social process – and it probably has everywhere. People don’t necessarily like the taste, especially of red wine, but they’re introduced to it as they leave university and might encounter it within a company or at a party. Most people don’t go out looking for information, they just drink it.

What impact has your research had on the way the Chinese buy Australian wine?

We haven’t measured it. Given the size of the market and the rapidity of change, I would say it hasn’t had much of an impact as yet. These things have to go from the trade down through to the consumer because consumers aren’t looking for information. Our retail and online audits seem to show us that Chinese descriptors are not being used. We haven’t seen any hard evidence that Chinese terms are being used to describe wines. The problem in China is that we see the wine going into the wholesaler but we’re not sure where it’s coming out, the same with the cards and the descriptors. We see Australian exporters and some of the big distribution houses in China getting them from Wine Australia, but we don’t know what happens then.

Could more Chinese-relevant descriptors prompt the Chinese to engage with wine more easily and perhaps match wine with food more?

Actually, I don’t think the descriptor is the driver. Engagement with wine is really a socialisation process. People starting out drinking wine don’t aim to be able to describe it. Usually, it’s when people start to get serious about wine that they want to know more about it and be able to describe it. So I don’t think the effect is going to come in the uptake and promotion, especially for new drinkers. We haven’t seen any evidence of the big Chinese companies using those descriptors in advertising. Wine advertising tends to be to the masses, if we disregard the trade magazines for instance. If you take Coke, it never tells you what it tastes like any more. It’s all about the social situation, when you drink it, who you drink it with. In the little wine advertising we see in China, that’s what they’re doing too. I think that’s something all of us in the trade need to realise. I thought, and still do think, that this project would allow the trade in China to take things to a wider audience by being less Western about wine but actually, wine is a Western product and it’s just going to take time. Down the line, the trade may see opportunities to use Chinese descriptors such as hawthorn on back labels instead of raspberry. I think we’ve provided a tool which we have seen the Australians begin to use. Right now, Australia is doing very well in China.

How do you explain this – the FTA, or pricing policies?

I think we’re understanding the Chinese market better. Before, we pushed the very expensive, icon wines and then it was and still is the big brands – the Jacob’s Creek etc. – coming and trying to fill the retail shelves. Two things have happened. One is that Australia has got a bit smarter and tried to go to China with 20AUD or more wines rather than 7-10 AUD, so they’ve attacked a different price point which is a different consuming segment. Simultaneously, our wine barometer shows that as these wines begin to diffuse through to the 25-35 year olds, the wine drinking situations/occasions are becoming less formal. New World wines in general are more accessible. Even with the free trade agreements, wine is still expensive in China and is not something that can be drunk often unless you have a good job and money. In fact, the Chinese worry about the cost of fitting in – to fit in you need to drink wine, but it costs a lot of money. When the Chinese go out with friends and there are no business associates, they drink beer.

Which aspects of Chinese wine consumption do you think currently deserve to be a topic of research?

The flavours card was actually quite technical but as a consumer researcher I think we should be studying where wine is encountered, how people’s first and second impressions influence when they will drink it again. We think it’s more of the social influence but we’re not really sure. There could be a genetic aspect – some people have a greater ability to taste bitter, sweet etc – in which case there’s not much we can do about it. Understanding the adoption and socialisation process and how consumers categorise wines is essential. Retailers and the trade categorise wines in store – by region, say, or elsewhere by grape variety, or imports. Understanding how consumers think about groups of wine is really an unexplored area, in China especially. 

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