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Budweiser, Miller…and Tsingtao?

As part of its global expansion plan, China's leading beermaker aims to break out of the niche market in the U.S.
Visitors degust Tsingtao beer at a bar in the Tsingtao beer factory in Qingdao, Shandong Province of China.
Visitors degust Tsingtao beer at a bar in the Tsingtao beer factory in Qingdao, Shandong Province of China. Getty Images

Crown Imports, the largest beer importer in the U.S., sells more Tsingtao beer every year during Chinese New Year than any other period. This year, it's been pulling out all the stops. Chicago-based Crown (a subsidiary of Constellation Brands (STZ)) has persuaded Costco Wholesale (COST) to carry China's most famous beer in several stores in Northern California and the Pacific Northwest on a trial basis during celebrations of the Year of the Rat, which started on Feb. 7. If Tsingtao sells well, Costco may consider stocking the Chinese import beer year-round. Crown Imports has also signed up celebrity chef Martin Yan to kick off a marketing blitz in a bid to expand Tsingtao outside Chinatown and into downtown U.S.A.

Tsingtao is China's oldest and most famous beer, with a 13% market share at home. Based in the northeastern city of Qingdao (the company uses an older system of romanizing the name for its brand; hence the different spelling), the brewery entered the U.S. market in 1972, shortly after Nixon's visit to Beijing started thawing Cold War relations between the two countries. It set up a beachhead in Chinese restaurants where it already had high brand recognition. The White House has served Tsingtao at every Chinese state leader's visit since Deng Xiaoping's in 1979.