Up until 2013, selling cognac in China was considered to be one of the sure fire ways of generating great revenues and profits. Between 2007-2012 volume sales grew by 119% (14.8 million litres), with retail sales up by 186% (RMB31 billion, US$5 billion). Cognac benefitted from its highly prestigious image in China and the Chinese culture of gift-giving to nurture relationships, especially with government officials and other businesses. Both factors boosted the luxury end of the cognac category. There seemed little doubt that growth would continue.
Problems Taking Time to Appear
Even when, in October 2012, the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, announced a clampdown on government extravagance and corruption, in early 2013, cognac producers and distributors were still optimistic that the category would return to healthy growth and last year’s Euromonitor International’s forecast growth of 15% volume CAGR (27 million litres) and 16% value CAGR (RMB53.5 billion) between 2012-2017 reflected those views. The consensus opinion was that cognac’s strong image and long presence in the country would shield the category from the brunt of any negative effect, unlike the less well-established blended Scotch.
However, the anti-extravagance push has had a more deleterious effect on cognac sales than expected and has substantially curbed “gifting” by business executives offering luxury gifts to officials, who increasingly dare not accept them. Nor has it been helped by a slowing economy and investigations into the links between some on-trade establishments and prostitution.