Last updated: November 13, 2012 5:31 pm

Chinese spirit chases Xi Jinping’s rise

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Chinese president-in-waiting Xi Jinping has criticised Communist party officials for banqueting and networking, and urged them to focus on studying Marxism instead.

But for one Chinese liquor company, the elevation of Mr Xi has been a godsend.

China Xi Jiu is a 60-year-old distiller of baijiu, the ubiquitous Chinese grain liquor served at every official banquet. By a stroke of fortune the Chinese character for “Xi” is the same ideograph used to write the incoming president’s surname.

Baijiu – literally “white alcohol” – is almost always offered to grease the wheels of commerce and government, and is also a favourite gift among businessmen and officials.

Partly thanks to its name, sales of Xi Jiu reached Rmb2.3bn ($369m) in the first 10 months of this year. The company says sales should hit Rmb3bn by the end of this year – nearly double its performance in 2010. Xi Jiu hopes to list on the domestic stock market some time next year.

Diageo, the producer of Johnnie Walker whisky and Guinness beer, has bought into a baijiu brand known as Shui Jing Fang in Chinese and Swellfun in English. Earlier this year, Diageo announced plans to launch Swellfun in the UK market at a retail price of £100 ($159) a bottle.

Mr Xi will take over as head of the Communist party on Thursday and will become president of China in March, performing both roles for the next decade.

In an effort to cash in on the rise of the new leader, Xi Jiu has launched a big marketing campaign, bidding more than Rmb300m for prime-time advertising slots on state broadcaster China Central Television, according to local media. The company is targeting total annual sales of Rmb8bn-10bn by the end of 2015.

Using the image or name of senior officials for commercial purposes is forbidden in China and representatives from Xi Jiu refused repeated requests for comment.

“The rationale for the big marketing push is the assumption that once Xi Jinping takes power lots of people will want to give Xi Jiu as gifts,” said Bill Bishop, an independent analyst in Beijing who bought a case of vintage Xi Jiu as an investment last year.

Xi Jiu is named after Xishui county in the southwestern province of Guizhou, where it has been produced since 1952. But the company has a chequered history and until recently the brand was a little-known cheap substitute for better-known tipples.

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The company that produces Xi Jiu was bought in 1998 by publicly listed Kweichow Moutai, the most famous of all baijiu brands and the one used at official state banquets to toast visiting dignitaries.

Until recently “we drank it because it tastes like Moutai but is a lot cheaper,” Wang Dimiao, a provincial-level government official in Guizhou, told the Financial Times.

Ma Youquan, a party cadre in charge of an agricultural school in Guizhou, said the drink was “pure and tasty and easy to swallow”.

He added: “When you drink a lot of it you don’t get a bad headache or feel thirsty.”

Additional Reporting by Gu Yu

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