VERONA, Italy (Reuters) - Italy and Alibaba hope to boost the share of Italian wine sold on the Chinese e-commerce network 10-fold as part of wider moves to increase Italian wine exports to China where it still lags France and other wine-making peers.
In a joint conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Alibaba founder Jack Ma said the aim was to increase the share of Italian wines "from 6 to 60 per cent" of all the bottles it sold on its platform.
"Chinese people have a passion for all things Italian. Alibaba wants to be the gateway to China for Italian brands and small businesses," Ma said, speaking at Italy's Vinitaly wine fair in the northern city of Verona.
Ma, who is also executive chairman of Alibaba, announced the launch of a Wine and Spirits Festival on Sept. 9, an online event aimed at introducing global wine and spirit brands to Chinese consumers.
Italy's reds and whites represent only 5 per cent of Chinese imports, worth an overall 1.8 billion euros ($2 billion), according to a report by think-tank Nomisma.
Alibaba's business-to-consumer marketplace Tmall is already host to more than 90 Italian brands.
But Italy's wine makers are mainly small and family-owned, making it hard for them to reach out and sell on complex markets like China. Of Italy's 5.4 billion euros of wine exports, only 87 million euros worth go to China.
"Italy has lost too many opportunities in the e-commerce sector. The only way for small companies to keep up with global competition is to turn digital," Renzi said.
According to Denis Pantini of Nomisma, which publishes the annual Wine Monitor report, out of a total of 55,000 national producers, almost 85 per cent make less than 10,000 bottles.
Pantini said Italy hobbles behind other countries, such as France and Australia, due to the fragmented nature of its producers, a lack of any national strategy on exports and high tax duties.
"We are still very little known in China where culturally wine is still not perceived as a household habit," Roberto Giannelli, owner of Tuscan winery San Filippo said.
(Reporting by Giulia Segreti, editing by Stephen Jewkes and Susan Thomas)