20 August 2019
Mou Qingqi (L) and Lu Shuhao teamed up two others to create the wine authentication app YOGO. Photo: HKEJ
Mou Qingqi (L) and Lu Shuhao teamed up two others to create the wine authentication app YOGO. Photo: HKEJ

How some HKUST grads seized an opportunity from China fake wines

China’s food safety and counterfeit products problems remain as serious as ever despite government efforts to clamp down on malpractices.

Just two weeks ago, a fake-wine syndicate came to light in Guangdong province, providing more proof that one cannot take anything for granted in the mainland.

Given this situation, it’s no surprise that detection of fakes has come to be recognized as quite a big business itself.

Youngsters are especially aiming to seize the opportunities, as this initiative by a group of tech-savvy people shows.

Following the fake-wine scandals, four young people — three of them graduates of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) — recently unveiled a wine authentication app called YOGO. 

All in their twenties, one might assume that they might not know enough about red wine, but the truth is quite the opposite.

In fact, chief operating officer Mou Qingqi is a red wine connoisseur with a wine taster certificate from Hong Kong.

“I hope YOGO can help people assess the authenticity of the wine,” he told StartUpBeat, a website belonging to the Hong Kong Economic Journal group.

“When entering the China market, the number one concern of foreign vintners is not about the sales, but the counterfeiting problem,” he noted.

Labeling itself as China’s first red wine identity platform, the main business of YOGO is to provide Near Field Communication (NFC) tags to vintners and wine sellers, in effect giving identity cards for each bottle of wine.

By scanning a wine bottle with a smartphone that has YOGO, one can get information on that particular bottle of wine, including the authenticity of the product.

The chip used for the task is only around 65 nanometers long. (to give a comparison, cellular ribosomes are about 20 nanometers end-to-end). And most importantly, the chip cannot be easily counterfeited in China, YOGO’s chief executive Lu Shuhao said.

YOGO expects to launch its service officially as soon as April. The group revealed that it has received funding from an angel investor in Shenzhen.

“We are now cooperating with wine dealers, providing them with the service for free. Our income will rely on the customers; we will split the revenue with the wine dealers if customers purchase red wine through our app,” Lu said.

With the rise of the middle class, mainland China is an enormous market for vintners. The price of a bottle of red wine can range from less than hundred yuan to 10,000 yuan (US$1,610) or even more.

Given the huge market for luxury wines, making fake wines is a lucrative business in China.

Lu says that around half of the red wines being peddled in China could be fake.

“In the future, we hope that every product, such as a bottle of milk and a can of milk powder, can have its own identity card. This is our vision.”

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EJ Insight writer

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