Fans of Hello Kitty, the cutesy cartoon cat by Japanese brand Sanrio, which is plastered on everything from airplanes to boats, will be available to find the feline’s signature face and pink bow on bottles of champagne. According to the bottler, French-based M. Hostomme, which unveiled the Hello Kitty Champagne in Hong Kong last month, the iconic kitten has been enlisted to increase the appeal of the struggling alcoholic beverage in the Asian market.
According to industry publication, Drinks Business, the product was released during the International Wine and Spirits Fair in Hong Kong. Though technically a sparkling wine, the bubbly beverage, called Cuvée Spéciale, is none other than a pink-tinged rosé that’s 50 percent Pinot Noir, 30 percent Pinot Meunier and 20 percent Chardonnay. Hello Kitty has already graced wine and beer bottles, but the new move by M. Hostomme is an attempt to use the brand's appeal in the hope of promoting champagne drinking among Chinese consumers. Dutch entrepreneur Paul Herman shed some light on picking the seemingly juvenile cartoon character as a spokesperson for an adult beverage.
“I thought this character was just for 5-10 year olds until I saw a Hello Kitty launch party in LA hosted by Paris Hilton and Beyoncé,” Herman told Drinks Business. “It’s amazing what you can find -- Hello Kitty-branded Swarovski-encrusted bikes, Mini Coopers, even Eva Air’s Boeing jets that fly the Taiwan to Tokyo route where the inflight meal features Hello Kitty.” The branding strategy still seems like a risk, particularly for a beverage that has proven to be poorly received by Chinese, but Herman says this is just the latest in his constant search for the next thing. “I’m a Dutch guy, so I’m very open-minded. I’m always looking for new things.”
Though China has increasingly embraced all things foreign and luxurious as the country’s middle class gains higher disposable income, there’s one symbol of luxury -- champagne -- that people are not interested in. “Compared with red wine, the acceptance of champagne is still limited," Wang Wei, Beijing director of the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), a trade organization in France that represents champagne makers, told the China Daily. According to statistics from Euromonitor, a total of 1.3 billion liters of red wine were consumed in China in 2011, while champagne consumption was only 900,000 liters. Many attribute the less-than-bubbly performance to basic differences in Chinese taste. Consumer successes in the Chinese market come after brands tailor their product to the Chinese. In general, the Chinese don’t like their drinks cold. One customer who served champagne at his wedding last year said that “many guests, especially elderly people, do not like that cold wine with bubbles,” adding that the taste is "light and a little bit strange.”
Still, the bottles emblazoned with light pink labels and hearts could stand a chance. Set to be sold in Japan and Hong Kong to start with, before making a move for mainland China beginning in Shanghai, maybe the kitschy cat can create champagne fans. Noted as Japan’s answer to Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse, the global cultural phenomenon may have enough power to get people raising their glasses.