More than a decade ago, our China lawyers compiled a long report on the legal issues related to selling wine to China. Our overall conclusion (which remains true today) is that exporting and selling wine to China is surprisingly uncomplicated from a legal perspective. The biggest legal concern for those selling wine into China is protecting IP and dealing with counterfeits.
On protecting IP, the key (as always) is to file an application for a China trademark of your brand name and your logo before you ship your first bottle to China. In filing for your China trademark, you need to be sure your secure trademarks in the right classes and subclasses for your particular product and business model and also seriously consider coming up with a Chinese language brandname for your wine and getting the China trademark for that as well. Some companies also use various high-tech anti-counterfeiting measures.
With offices in Washington, Oregon, California, Mexico and Spain, our China lawyers have helped many a winery get its wines into China and be protected once there. Unfortunately, our China lawyers also have far too much experience helping wineries exit China after their China sales disappointed. Truth is, like most consumer products in China, marketing and selling wines in China is tough and success usually requires a large marketing budget and good partners on the ground. The bigger and better wine distributers and retailers in China will rarely market your wine for you. Instead you will probably need to market your wines yourself and this is often necessary even to get the good distributers and retailers to consider selling your wine.
Enter the online world and the marketing/distributing/selling equation may be changing, at least a bit and for some. JD.com has lately been pushing its program for taking foreign wines into the China market and using it for pretty much everything. Drinks Business last week did a story, China’s JD.COM Steps up Imported Wine Business, highlighting JD.com’s progress in selling foreign wines online and its plans to attend the upcoming VineExpo to pitch more wineries on selling online.
According to the article, JD.com sold 40 million bottles of wines in China last year and it is now stepping “up its efforts to import directly from wine regions and wineries, cutting back on importers and middlemen.” JD.com can directly import from wineries and handle all customs clearance and logistic issues, making logistics a snap for the wineries. JD has a very good reputation but like any for profit business, it will no doubt work harder for the wineries on its platform with the strongest sales, so the marketing element is not completely out of the equation. Not only that, some believe that an “over-reliance on Chinese e-commerce platforms to sell our products for us means we are quickly losing our local knowledge and are risking our future in the world’s biggest market.”
But, if you are not now selling your wines in China or you are doing so but making very little headway, something like JD.com’s online market may very well be the way for you to go.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments below. And for more on China’s wine industry, check out Wine And Taxes And How To Do Business In China and Don’t Mess with China Customs (This one is a must-read)