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Q&A: Paulo Pong, Altaya Group

db Asia met Paulo Pong, founder of fine wine importer Altaya Group, who has just opened Hong Kong’s largest Burgundy-dedicated shop, ‘Burgundy etc’, to talk about his outlook on the wine retail market in Hong Kong.

Q: Can you tell us more about the background of the new shop?
A: We started looking for new spaces for our retail shop in Central since last year as the lease of the previous location expired earlier this year. We have been selling Burgundy wine for over 20 years and it is always an important focus for us and we see the enthusiasm from the market is getting prominent these days; hence we think it is good timing to expand Burgundy etc. As we rent a larger space for the new shop, not only we can offer more selection for customers to browse through, we have also set up a tasting room to hold events and workshops.

Q: Are there any special offerings in the new shop?
Being a wine shop with Burgundy focus, we have over 700 SKUs available in the shop at different price points. Since we have good connections with an array of wineries, some of the bottles are sent directly from them, and so we can offer our products at rather affordable pricings. Also, we can source Burgundy wine of rare old vintages. On top of Burgundy, there are also good selections of Bordeaux wines, Champagne, whisky and sake.

Q: Do you think there are more Burgundy than Bordeaux drinkers nowadays?
A: It depends on the price point. Bordeaux remains a staple as the region has a great reputation. In the affordable and medium-priced range, the demand for both regions is similar. Moving up to the premium cap, Burgundy has superseded Bordeaux since, these days, more experienced drinkers are eager to explore the different unique flavours of Burgundy. It does take time to educate drinkers to understand Burgundy wine as there are a lot of variations within the region. Fortunately, consumers in this market are willing to try and learn something new, as long as the quality is there.

Q: What is the major misconception about Burgundy wine in the Hong Kong market?
A: There are still a lot of drinkers who think Burgundy wine must be pricy. Indeed, there are a lot of Burgundy wineries offering products at entry-level or they have a second label, although they may not be common in the local market.

Q: The wine market is getting more transparent these days. How do you sharpen the competitive edge of running a bricks and mortar shop?
A: Yes, we understand the transparency when speaking of price competition. However, we believe our reputation can give customers the reassurance of product quality. Besides, Burgundy is a region that may be hard for customers to master and so it is important for them to experience the wine – our well-trained staff at the store can guide customers to choose their products. Moreover, we will be hosting tasting events in store to engage our customers.

Q: It has been a tough year for the industry. Have you observed any changes in the buying habits of your customers?
A: Our private clients possess a certain purchasing power and so their buying practice doesn’t change much even under a turbulent environment; moreover, some of them may even spend more on wine as the on-trade business was hindered due to the social distancing regulations – when they can’t drink in a restaurant, they shifted the budget to purchase wine to enjoy at home. We have also seen a surge in online sales.

Q: How do you see the development of your retail arm in future?
A: I’m still optimistic about the retail market. Indeed, after the new shop was soft-opened for a few weeks, it has been performing well. But moving forward, we are keen to expand our online shop, which is now undergoing a revamp and is soon to be rolled out. While our bricks and mortar is still creating an immersive experience for customers, they can fetch more knowledge and news from the online shop. Running an online shop, together with the promotion of social media, can help us to reach out to new clients.

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