China in your hands
The upcoming Beijing Olympics has put China in the spotlight and created an opportunity for different beer brands. Nigel Huddleston reports
London in 2012 may be the big one for the UK, but the forthcoming Olympic Games in Beijing will put China in the spotlight.
The time difference means it won't be a sales bonanza for off-licences on the scale of, say, a Europe-based World Cup in soccer, but there's still a promotional opportunity for stores to create some colour and excitement around Chinese drinks .
arguably best-placed to make in roads into the premium packaged lager sector through the Olympics, and has the brand that's getting most support in the marketplace.
It has official beer sponsor status which it usually uses to lever sales of Budweiser, but this year it's
putting the focus on Harbin, its wholly-owned Chinese brand.
James Whiteley, import brands manager at Anheuser-Busch in the UK, says: "The Olympics certainly make it the year for Chinese and Asian beer, and it definitely puts the spotlight on us with the Harbin brand, yet we don't want it to overtake the brand."
its visibility with sponsorship of the China
Now festival in London and an ad
"We're trying to get a momentum and focus on everything to do with China around the brand ," Whiteley adds.
Anheuser's stranglehold on the official rights makes it difficult for other brands to directly exploit the Olympic opportunity in their marketing, but there's nothing to stop individual retailers running their own Chinese promotions to coincide with the games, providing they don't suggest official endorsement from the Olympic organisation where none exists.
Other Chinese beers have started to penetrate the UK market. Specialist beer importer Pierhead Purchasing has added Zhu jiang to its portfolio this year.
"It certainly seems like there's a lot more interest in Chinese beer and wine this year than there has been before," says Michael
Cook, Pierhead's director of imported beer.
"As far as beer goe s, Tsingtao has had the edge for
the past few years and we're now trying to sort that out. Harbin obviously has had a lot of money behind it, but doesn't seem to have made a big impact on the ground."
Pierhead is also importing an Australian-owned brand called Lucky, which comes in a moulded bottle in the shape of a Buddha, for a Far Eastern feel.
Cook says the brand was in the process of switching to a Chinese brewing source
and adds: "It's going to be brewed with a large percentage of rice to keep up the Far Eastern character, and it seems more suitable for the image of the product for it to be brewed in China."
The list of Chinese beer brands in the UK is completed by Shepherd Neame's Sun Lik and Tsingtao, now under the stewardship of Halewood International, after a rollercoaster period with Global Brands which spent much of its time on the brand trying to sort out rights issues with a secondary supplier.
Richard Clark, Halewood's director of marketing, says: "The Olympics wasn't a big factor for us in taking it on, but the fact that it's in China this year has been a big plus.
"Tsingtao is the eighth biggest beer brand in the world so it's obviously a big opportunity."
Chinese wine arguably remains less so for British retailers. It may be the world's sixth biggest wine- producing nation, but concerns over
China's ability to produce sufficient quality have restricted its entry into the UK market.
However, it is making in roads, with Morrisons listing two wines under the
Road label this year, while Bibendum has listed the premium-priced, Lenz Moser-produced, Noble Dragon wines.
Pierhead also has the Yili River brand.
"It's from north-west China, and on the same latitude as Bordeaux and California," says
Michael Cook. "They've got French wine-makers working out there now and the quality is improving all the time."
So you've got your Chinese products in store, but now you've got to draw attention to them.
All4Parties.co.uk has a range of dragons on sticks, Chinese lanterns, flags and costumes .
A bigger range of Chinese lanterns and striking banners are available from
And why not ask your friendly cash
and carry manager whether he's got any left-overs from the Chinese New Year? They're out of season and could be
But if you really want to push the boat out , you can hire
lion and dragon dancers from the Surrey-based Nam Yang Kung Fu Association on 01372 725918.
Let the games commence
When: The Olympics officially begin on Aug 8, although preliminary games in the football tournament start two days earlier. The closing ceremony is on Aug 24.
UK TV coverage: The BBC has exclusive rights and will be broadcasting live events every day from 2am to 6pm.
Best British medal hopes: Frankie Gavin (boxing), Bradley Wiggins, Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton (track cycling), Katy Livingston (modern pentathlon), David Davies (swimming), men's coxless four (rowing), men's 4x100 m relay team (athletics), Richard Faulds (shooting), Ben Ainslie (sailing), William Fox-Pitt (eventing).
The controversy caused by China's human rights record and its suppression of the democracy movement in Tibet has already impacted on the Olympics, with demonstrations during the torch's visit to London earlier in the year.
Getting behind all things Chinese might not be for you in the circumstances, but you can
get in the Olympic mood
by highlighting the best of
Scotch and Welsh whiskies, bottled ales and English wines.
A Greek theme - highlighting the Olympic movement's origins - is also a possibility, and specialist Greek wine importer Vickbar (020 7490 1000) is a good starting point, with more than 70 wines supplied to the UK market.
Pierhead supplies the bottled Greek lagers Mythos and Marathon.