Picture: 123RF/jeka81
Picture: 123RF/jeka81

Paris — Sales of French wine and spirits to China fell in 2018, industry figures showed on Wednesday, in a further sign that a Chinese economic slowdown is hitting consumption.

The Federation for Wine and Spirit Exporters (FEVS) said sales to mainland China, France’s third-biggest export market, slumped 14.4% in 2018 to €1bn.

But it said the drastic decline had been partly compensated by an increase in exports to Singapore and Hong Kong, from where some French wine is rerouted to the mainland.

Sales to all three markets contracted 1.5% in 2018 to €2.5bn, a reversal after years of double-digit growth fuelled by the growing taste for foreign alcohol among the Chinese middle class.

China’s economy grew at its slowest pace in almost three decades in 2018 and lost more steam in the last quarter of the year as it battles to cut massive debt and quell a US trade war.

Antoine Leccia, head of FEVS, put a positive spin on the figures, saying exports to mainland China, Hong Kong and Singapore were still the second-best on record, “which confirms the long-term dynamics of the Chinese market”.

Worldwide, exports of French wine and spirits grew 2.4% in 2018 to €13.2bn, driven by appetite for the country’s three-star products: champagne, Bordeaux wine and cognac.

The largest export market remains the US, where sales increased 4.6%.

Exports are a key driver for the French wine and spirits industry as it confronts falling consumption at home.

In under 20 years, wine consumption per capita in France has fallen by more than 20%, according to the latest figures from the International Wine Organisation.

The decline is attributed to changing wine-drinking habits —people drink less, but higher quality — as well as a growing taste for rival alcohols such as beer.