Chinese liquor takes a shot at US market

Updated: 2015-01-26 11:10

By LIAN ZI in San Francisco(China Daily USA)

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Chinese liquor takes a shot at US market

Representatives of participated Chinese traditional enterprises receive 100 Anniversary of Panama Pacific International Exposition Certificate at the banquet hosted at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco on Jan 24. Provided for China Daily.

So much and so little can happen in the space of 100 years.

"China still has a long way to go before it becomes a big country for world famous brand names,"said Xia Xiang, economic and commercial counselor of the Chinese Consulate General in San Francisco, at a banquet marking the 100th anniversary of the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) Saturday night.

"But I am thoroughly convinced that Chinese companies will build their popular brand names and provide more first-class products to the global market with their persistence and efforts."

Representatives from a group of established Chineseenterprises, mostlymakers of the traditional Chineseliquorbaijiu that participated in the first PPIE,revisited the original site of the fair,gathering for abanquetat the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. The event washosted by the US-China Business &Culture Association and the Chinese Wine Newspaper.

The celebration wasfocusedon the past, but also on the future, said Tie Zhang, president of the US-China Business &Culture Association.

"We want to review the glorious history of cultural and business exchanges between China and the US 100years ago, but also look into the future and provideChinese traditional brands a platform to promote their awareness inthe US mainstream market,"said Zhang.

Among those companies participating were baijiu makers Fenjiu Group of Shanxi, Baofengjiu Group of Henan and HengshuiLaobaiganofHebei, who won grand prizes in 1915 at the first PPIE, the world's fair celebrating the completion of the Panama Canal, according to Zhang.

The fair, which opened on Feb 20, 1915 and drew 19 million visitors to the city, also showcased San Francisco's world trade potential and its recovery from the ashes of the 1906 earthquake and fire, Zhang told the gathering.

Even though the PPIE was the first time for Chinese brands going abroad for international customers, "Chinese products such as wines, silks, porcelains were extremely popular at the exposition", said Qin Shuyaoof the Chinese Wine Newspaper.

Yet Chinese liquor brands have little name recognition among US customers 100 years later. "Today, only less than 1 percent of people in the US have ever heard of Chinese liquor," said Zhang.

"We knowthatmost people in the US haven't tasted it yet," said Han Jianshu, general manager of Fenjiu Group, who urgedparticipants to work hard and collaborate with foreign trade groups to promote the Chinese liquor and wine culture and products in the US market.

"I think there is a great potential for Chinese liquor in the US market as it could be served as an after dinner drink like Sherry," saidWei Bing, vice-president of the Bay Area Council, a policy advocacy organization that is currently operating the California China Trade Offices.

With the Chinese economy and culture taking more of the center stage in world affairs, Western consumers will find it exciting and exotic to try something new, Wei said. The timing is right, she added, for Chinese liquor to have a global impact like Russian vodka did in the past.

However, much work needs to be done to enter the mainstream US market, she said.

The wine culturesof the US and China are very different, said Laura Mclntosh, host and producer of the cooking television show Bringing It Home. She toldChina Dailyit was her first time to try Chinese liquor at the banquet.

"Chinese liquorhas a stronger taste and I noticed that everyone shot it,"said Mclntosh. "US people only drink our white and red wine casually with dinner. I am also curious about how Chinese people marry their liquor with food."

It will take time to get US people to accept Chinese wine and liquor, she said. When Americans are educated about how to use it and what food it could be used with, they will feel more comfortable buying it for themselves and friends.