A Finger on the Pulse of Hong Kong Distribution

Ponti boss Antonio Koo says Vinexpo is an essential element in learning and networking

Antonio Y.L. Koo is founder and managing director of wine retailer and wholesaler Ponti International and Ponti Wine Cellars. Appointed by France as an Officer of the Order of Agricultural Merit in 2008, he is a graduate of Tufts and Boston Universities. We asked him to tell us a little more about his businesses.

In Hong Kong, we have three divisions, Ponti Wine Cellars is the premium retail merchant. Brix is the more middle-range every day drinking wines. Ponti Wine Cellars would be the more exclusive high-end, more burgundies and more old-world. Brix is more new-world. Ponti Trading is the wholesale distribution section.

How is demand evolving in Hong Kong?

If we look at direct-to-consumer, when I came into the wine business in 1988, there was already direct-selling, but on a much smaller scale. In those days, you had maybe 30 companies. It grew over time, but there were still only around 50 or 60 key companies before 2008. Since the government abolished the duty on wines in that year, 230-250 serious companies have come into the market. Of course, you always have the 80:20 rule, with some very sizeable companies, but still you have 250 serious companies. Licences to import wines are now numbered in the thousands.


Distributionwise, of course many now work with the Internet, because not many companies can endure the high rental prices in Hong Kong. Shop rents can be over €10,000, so many operate out of warehouses with a nice website, or they find off-prime locations or work in commercial buildings. Consequently, selling to consumers today is multi-facetted. It’s like a matrix: tastings, events, dinners, showrooms, retail, local public wine fairs, pop-up shops in malls, and clubhouses doing wine fairs with 15- 20 suppliers every six or 12 months.

What are your company’s key selling points? What sets your company apart from the others and makes you successful?

We have a large portfolio of exclusive brands that I source with my team. We visit the wineries, and go very in-depth with the story detail, so we have some very, very strong brands we have developed. Some of them have a larger volume; over a thousand cases, even five thousand cases. But we also have a lot of gorgeous boutique and highly rated, very delicate wine brands – but not necessarily pricewise. We always try to source every-day drinking wines. The majority would sell anywhere from HK$200-1,000…

How is Singapore going for you?

We have a very small operation there. In Singapore, likewise, we also do more boutique brands distribution, to selective more premium F&B outlets. We also have a team that does the selling direct to consumers.

How important is Vinexpo for you as a sourcing and networking platform?

I have been involved in Vinexpo for many years. Both Vinexpo Bordeaux and Vinexpo Hong Kong are very essential for trade people to attend. First of all, Vinexpo Hong Kong for example is very convenient for buyers from Greater China, also Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Korea and so on.
Sourcing-wise it’s very valuable. You have over a thousand exhibitors, from many, many different countries. In my case, I have been in the trade for 30 years, but that doesn’t mean I don’t need to come to an event like this. It’s still essential to see new brands, do the tastings, communicate, socialise with your principals and your suppliers. You have many training sessions which are great for my staff, but also for myself. You learn something new every day, and then you attend the tasting sessions and master training sessions. So there’s a variety of things from which one can benefit and learn.

Ponti was established in 1988 as a gourmet food and wine retail store in the basement of the renowned Shui Hing Department Store on Nathan Road, Hong Kong. Today, Ponti International operates 5 companies out of Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore, with approximately 90 employees. Their multi-channel distribution network includes wholesale, retail and direct marketing, and their wholesale customer base comprises over 700 outlets.

Photo: Antonio Y.L. Koo, Founder & Managing Director, Ponti International Limited and Ponti Wine Cellars