- When did Silvana Ballotta start to develop her interest in China? What was the reason that made Silvana Ballotta decided to set up Taste Italy! China? Is there any achievements Taste Italy! has acquired since its establishment in 2015?
My interest in Asian markets has a long history. Way back in 1980, I was already working on development plans for Italian businesses together with the World Bank in China, in Heilongjiang, Yunnan, Guangxi, Guangzhong and of course Beijign and Shanghai.
After having founded BS Business Strategies, China has become a key market of my corporate strategy. The mission of the group is promoting the value of Made in Italy around the world. Taste Italy! is our Chinese branch, founded as a special project dedicated to China only: it aims for providing Italian companies with an effective tool to access the Asian market and, at the same time, being a reliable partner for thousands of Chinese companies interested in doing business in Europe and, particularly, in Italy. I like the idea that Taste Italy! embodies a modern Silk Road, linking two sides of the world, where Made in Italy is a precious bargaining chip.In only two years of activity, Taste Italy! has already achieved important goals: Italian clients constantly ask us to support them in development projects in China, and we have also founded the first academy for Italian wine lovers, Taste Italy! Wine Academy, officially recognised by the Italian government. Besides, many Chinese investors require our advice on coporate acquisitions, especiallyin industries suchas real estate, wine, food and fashion.
- What is the percentage of wine related business in Business Strategies Group’s overall business? How many Italian wineries are currently working with Business Strategies? Can you give us an example of the kind of service BS provide to wineries?
Wine is our core business: 80% of our clients portfolio is represented by wineries. From the North to the South of Italy, we count almost 500 affiliated wineries. As a personal trainer, BS Business Strategies guides wineries in everystep of the Chinese market entry, from scouting resources to identifying the best local partners, through brand building and product promotion. Our clients overall produce over 100 million bottles per year, whose 70% is exported to the keyf oreign markets, with a special focus on China.
- What’s the current situation of Italian Wine Export? Can you also provide us some data?
In 2016, thanks to the boom of sparkling wine, Italian wine export exceeded 5.5 billion Euro value, setting a new record. In the same year, Italy was the first country for value growth, with +39% value growth in bottled wines market, which represents 93% of total import. This was an excellent performance, considering the total average in the same category (+17%) and the growth value of competitors such as Spain (+27%), Australia and Chile (+24%) or France, the market leader (+12%). As for France, Italy has gained the title of wine producing superpower. Though, it has not fully expressed its potential on the China marketyet, where it still only has a small market share of 6%. On this market, we must keep working to promote and educate on Made in Italy brands. The great export growth in 2016 – thatran twice faster than our competitors – shows that we are going in the right direction.
- China is a complicated market, what are the key factors in successfully market and promote and sell Italian wines here? Can you please take the successful experiences that BS has done in China Market Entry for Italian Fashion, Luxury and Jewel companies as examples to explain if there is anything can be used for the marketing& communication of Italian Wine?
China is not an easy market, yet it is full of opportunities! The secrets for success are education, training and simplification. Our Taste Italy! Wine Academy every month lets Chinese learn about Italian wine together with our experts, starting from the basis. In a few hours, they learn more about the main Italian wine producing areas, producing methods, tasting techniques and the most famous producers. They go back home with a clearer picture of what Italian wine is, and they are willing to come back to learn more about it, and that’s our greatest success up to now: keep learning!
A key aspect to succeed in China is perseverance in pursuing your goals. Branding, marketing and promotion are pivotal to successfully market imported products. At the same time, you cannot do business without paying attention to the cultural codes embedded in China system. The cultural gap, which is even deeper than the linguistic one, is one of the first reasons why companies fail in the Dragon Land. Strategic partners, targeted communication, persistence and flexibility are needed ingredients to succeed on the market. Those big fashion and jewelry brands, which have well implemented this strategy, have gained a good spot on the market. When it comes to Italian wine, problem is that the several players of the industry do not speak with one voice. Indeed, very often our Chinese friends get confused by all those denominations and names that are difficult to pronounce. I believe that the Italian side still has to work a lot on the simplification of messages and on how to position themselves within everyone’s reach. This implies a critical money and time investment, that an average class winery cannot afford by itself in the long term. As the Italian saying goes, “Strength comes from togetherness”, and it is only by working together that we will be able to take the market by storm.
- You have mentioned many times in previous interview that “to combine Italian Wine to Italian Lifestyle” , can you explain how do your company put that in action in business practice?
Italian Lifestyle is a way of looking at life and enjoying it. If you visit Italy for the first time, you’ll be fascinated by the history, the landscapes, the perfect craftsmanship in fashion, automotive and arts. As well as our wine, that represents a unique product, and that is the result of traditional knowledge and techniques that were originally developed in our lands and that were passed on until today. That is our mission: let Chinese consumers find out the beauty of this culture and bring it over to their daily lives in Shanghai, Beijing and elsewhere in China.For instance, they could learn how to pair some of your culinary traditional dishes with a delicious Brunello or Barolo wine. Eating, drinking and dressing the Italian way is a 360 degrees experience, and you can enjoy it and fully understand it only if you look at it from the right stand-point. That is what we do: we teach the “Italianness”.
Italy and China have many things in common: long history, deep traditions, for example a taste for conviviality and togetherness. Hence, your country fulfills all the requirements to be able to fully appreciate the Italian lifestyle. “The proof of the pudding is in the eating”!
- Comparing to wines from other countries, for example France the old world wines and Australia, which occupy a big market share in China, what are the advantages and unique characteristics that Italian wines have?
Italy is the first wine producing country in the world and Europe procures 78% of global wine production. Our country has the most various multitude of native grapes on the planet (300 up to now). Such a diversification gives Italy unique traits and the chance to produce several different types of quality wines, extremely different from one another. Besides, there is no doubt that Italian wine is more cost effective than wines from other countries, which is why consumers can easily appreciate what they buy. Our wine still has only a small market share in your country, though according to statistics, it is growing and I believe I know why: even if our products seem to be difficult to understand (you may get lost among all their denominations, wine regions and such different characteristics), it doesn’t take much to fall in love with them!
- In your daily life, which are your favorite Italian wines? can you give some examples? And do you prefer different Italian wines in different stage of life?
Usually, people wait for a special moment to open an important wine bottle, though I believe that wine we decide to taste is what really makes a moment special! I like important wines, such as the most well-known ones from Piedmont and Tuscany, and at the same time I also appreciate niche quality productions from wineries that are doing such a good job in rediscovering native grapes that were left behind. Wine, as well as human beings, changes in time, showing new shades based on its aging. By growing professionally and personally, I have broadened my horizons on wines I have tasted and my understanding of them, so I would not say that there is a right age for each wine, it’s all about a personal experience that changes in time.
- In your opinion, in the current Chinese wine consumer market, which Italian wines may be easier to successfully gain market share in China? What is your prospects/ thoughts in the future for Italian wine in China?
Perhaps China will follow what other markets have done when they introduced wine for the first time. Generally, with some exceptions indeed, there is a tendency to prefer easy wines belonging to a lower price range. Only after a while there is a sort of curiosity for important red and sparkling wines. In China, red wine is already highly appreciated, thanks to its anti-aging and healthy qualities. Our sparkling wines are not best sellers on your market yet, though I believe they are a product to discover. Many of them, such as Franciacorta or Prosecco have nothing less than champagne and offer a more accessible price range. I like the idea that in the near future the “aperitivo” habit, that we Italians like so much, could become widespread all around China, in the trendiest venues of your cities.
- What communication and marketing plans does Taste Italy ! have for the coming year?
Taste Italy! was established for a clear mission: be a hub for Italian wine in China, build a unique communication channel to put our cultures in touch. We are now going to close a deal with an important national distribution partner. We aim for connecting China with Italian wine. In spring we are going to host Chinese entrepreneurs interested in purchasing properties and wineries in Italy, especially in Tuscany, Piedmont, Sicily and Veneto. This type of demand is growing and it is rooted into a growing interest in Italian wine. This project will be supported by B2B and B2C promotional events, to guarantee effective communication and spreading on the market. In March we will bring to China the second edition of Taste Italy! Italian Wines Roadshow, where wineries will meet over 120 traders of the wine industry in tier 2 and 1 cities: Hefei, Hangzhou and Xiamen. The first edition of this was held in Xi’an, Wuhan and Changsha, which we are going to visit again in November.
Taste Italy! Wine Academy is going to open 14 new branches this year in cities such as Guangzhou, Nanjing, Qingdao, Beijing, Xi’an, Dalian and Shenzhen. Very often, even importers themselves need a guide to better understand Italian wine. Hence, we were called to provide importers and distributors with a guidance, as they want to expand their portfolio of Italian wines.