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Creating a new niche for Hungarian wines

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1. How has Hong Kong’s wine sector changed in recent years?
A: Over the past few years, Hong Kong has established itself as the wine hub of Asia, providing many opportunities for winemakers and entrepreneurs in the region. Veritas Wine recently started importing from Hungary, in part because government policies now make this a very attractive market in which to operate. Our current focus is to increase awareness of Hungarian wines in Hong Kong and, further down the road, to introduce our products, especially the world-famous Tokaji dessert wines, to mainland Chinese importers.

Relationships can be established at events such as the Hong Kong International Wine & Spirits Fair every November. The Vinexpo is held in Hong Kong every second year, and there are various wine expos in China. The HKTDC also has a buyer-supplier-referral programme, which can be helpful in the initial stages of setting up a business.

Breaking into the mainland market requires more than just finding a good partner. To start with, China’s import duty and licensing requirements are not nearly as “friendly” as Hong Kong’s. Also, people often underestimate the cost and challenges of positioning and marketing wines in such a large market. This is especially true for high-quality niche products where the relatively small production doesn’t justify a national marketing budget comparable to those of France, Australia or New Zealand.

2. What are the key steps in starting a wine business locally?
A: Hong Kong is a very competitive market for wine entrepreneurs. The wine you want to sell here either has to be of exceptional quality or at a very low price point. If you are introducing something new – for example, such as Hungarian, Georgian or Lebanese wines – you have to bring in the best. On the supply side, you need to establish strong relationships with wineries you want to work with in the long term. It can be a long and detailed selection process to find the right partners. You also have to invest in creating awareness of the brand, identifying your target market and reaching out to customers. In Hong Kong, there are various wine columns, publications, blogs, and events, as well as some amazing, dedicated experts who wine lovers can look to for information. Entrepreneurs should also develop relationships with the media, which plays a big part in monitoring trends and launching products in the local market.

3. Is entrepreneurship a useful course in an MBA focusing on wine?
A: Entrepreneurship studies are a very important component of an MBA programme. However, starting your own business, no matter how long you have prepared, there will still be a lot to learn along the way. Management experience really helps, but there is always plenty of trial and error. You learn from your own and others’ mistakes.

4. Are there misconceptions about what it takes to succeed in the wine business?
A: Wine gets a lot of press coverage in Hong Kong - how to enjoy it and the business side. People like to talk about all the different aspects of the industry, just as they like to converse about art, politics, or sport. That is a good thing; it stirs interest and makes people want to learn more.

5. What are the main challenges you face at present?
A: The most challenging aspect for us is introducing Hungarian wines to a market that is inundated with French exports and hears much less about other great Old World wines. More than 60 per cent of the wine consumed in Hong Kong comes from France, largely due to the professional marketing and brand building of that country’s wine industry. There seems to be a misperception that all French wines are good. We want to provide a broader education and more opportunities for wine enthusiasts to learn about other regions and discover what they have to offer. It is a slow process, but we are prepared to work hard at getting the word out.

6. What are your views on the MBA focusing on the wine industry?
A: Hong Kong has many great options for wine education, for example WSET courses and tastings of products from all over the world. I studied business administration but have always been close to the industry: my family has been in winemaking for generations. For those new to the industry, an MBA in wine can be a wonderful way to learn.

7. What advice do you have for people going into this field?
A: Select your wines and winery partners very carefully. Understand the dynamics of the business in terms of marketing, pricing, distribution and sales. Prepare for strong competition and, most importantly, enjoy being part of a great industry.

Csilla Maróti Fisher

Csilla Maróti Fisher is Founder and Managing Director of Veritas Wine, a Hong Kong-based importer of fine Hungarian wines.

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