China imported more Belgian beers than Japan in 2014, becoming Asia's largest consumer of Belgian beers, the president of the Federation of Belgian Brewers, Jean-Louis Van de Perre, said during an exclusive interview with Xinhua on Tuesday.
According to the latest report published by the Federation on the export of Belgian beers, the export of Belgian beers to China was 162,751 hectoliters in 2014, an increase of 140 percent over the previous year (69,456 hectoliters) and 850 percent compared to 2008 (17,138 hectoliters).
Since 2012, the export of Belgian beers to China increased "rapidly" and exceeded that to Japan for the first time in 2014, said Van de Perre, noting that China has already become the third most largest export market for Belgian beer.
According to him, the countries that import the most Belgian beers are countries in North America, with the United States in the lead followed by Canada. They have respectively imported 1,791,207 hectoliters and 382, 983 hectoliters of Belgian beers in 2014.
For now, the most popular brands of Belgian beer in China are Stella Artois, Leffe, Hoegaarden, Duvel. In addition, two Chinese brands of beer, Harbin and Sedrin, have been fully redeemed by the Belgian beer group Anheuser-Busch InBev, said Van de Perre.
According to the president, the Chinese beer market has still a "great" potential of growth.
China has a large population and there is a tradition of beer drinking, he explained.
In addition, China is in a process of great economic growth, with the rapid growth of a middle class. Those people would like to taste foreign beers, which are more expensive than Chinese beers, but that offer them different experiences, said Van de Perre.
He said the Chinese government and people are becoming more and more open towards foreign beers and the exchanges between China and Belgium are becoming more frequent, which will further promote the sales of Belgian beers in China.
Unlike the successful export of Belgian beers, Belgian domestic consumption continues to decline during the past 20 years.
"For 20 years, there is a "structural" downward of the consumption in Belgium of beers to 25 percent," said Van de Perre, with each year seeing more or less than 2 percent of the loss of consumption.
Because there is a change of consumer behavior, he explained, the people could drink other things than beer.
"40 years ago in Belgium, when you were with a family , everyone was drinking beer. Today when you are with a family, there are water, coke, beer to drink, there are more choices for the consumer," he said.
The Belgians' drinking habits have also changed, according to Van de Perre.
"Today, the Belgians drink less but differently, they drink more special beers. People drink beers for their qualities. They are paying more attention to their health, and when they drive the car, they are not allowed to drink," he added.
But Belgium brewers combine the "diversification" and "tradition" of beer. "With the quality of products and the variety of beers, Belgian beer has always a lot of potentials to grow," insisted Van de Perre.