Like a dog with two tails

Big-name suppliers have every reason to feel happy as Chinese New Year approaches. Shay Waterworth outlines exactly how much this festival means


CHINESE NEW YEAR can be bigger than Christmas for some drinks suppliers. The annual event, known to the Chinese as Chun Jié or Spring Festival, is on February 16 and this year marks the Year of the Dog zodiac. The dog represents loyalty, which is fitting because, despite more Chinese people living abroad than ever before, around 3bn journeys are expected to be made by people returning home to celebrate – the greatest human migration on the planet. The influence of China’s immense population, especially the people who travel internationally, has been changing the landscape of the global drinks industry – and brands are beginning to wake up to this reality.


There are two big celebrations in China each year – Chinese New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival. During the latter, which takes place in September, the Chinese traditionally eat moon cakes and take a week off work to worship the mountain gods after a good harvest. The periods covering both festivals are commonly known as gifting seasons, when symbolic presents are given to family members and friends – just like Christmas.

Traditionally these gifts would be either a piece of fruit to symbolise life and a new beginning or, more recently fresh milk (a rare commodity in China). But now, rather than an apple in a box, the emerging demographic from China is beginning to broaden its gifting ideas.

Scotch whisky, brandy and wine are some of the biggest beneficiaries of China’s booming middle class and, as someone who has lived in the country, I can say that the fashionable obsession with western culture is rife. The theme for a majority of billboards is a picture of a white, blond-haired woman wearing an expensive watch with the Eiffel Tower standing tall in the background. This western focus has driven the international sales of big brands. For example, Ballantine’s launched its single malt range in Taiwan last year and some Bordeaux wine producers now have their own Chinese ambassadors.

For Chivas Brothers, however, it’s party time in China. “Chinese New Year presents a significant opportunity for Royal Salute,” says Mathieu Deslandes, Chivas Brothers’ marketing director, acknowledging its 10% volume growth in the past year in China.

“While Christmas is becoming increasingly important as a gifting season, we do not currently see quite the same high volume of sales as we do for Chinese New Year, which is also celebrated in many other Asian countries where we have a strong presence, such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia and Korea.

“We experience our highest volume of sales during the festive periods, with the majority of these coming through gifting. In Korea, for example, gifting represents around 20% of total Royal Salute volume sales – and Chinese New Year accounts for a high proportion of it.”