Wines made using organic, biodynamic and sustainable practices are becoming better known, but consumer confusion persists
This year we have broadened the scope of our research in Spain in two ways: first, with the launch of our Spanish office in Valladolid; second, with the publication of Spain Landscapes 2017. This report drives into the heart of the Spanish consumer, identifying what makes them tick (when it comes to wine, at least). One of our areas of focus was the consumer perception of ecological wines – defined broadly as organic wines, biodynamic wines, or wines generally made using clearly articulated principles of sustainability.
In the course of our research we spoke to many trade members who commented that the ecological movement is here to stay. Production of wines within this category is on the up, the industry gatekeepers (wine buyers) are on board and consumer acceptance is growing. As with many new categories, younger consumers are the most open to ecological wines and are embracing this small but promising trend.
As always with trends, the trick is figuring out how far it goes before it runs out of steam. How much can the category grow? How will it move beyond the early adopters, the highly engaged wine drinker, into a wider market of more casual wine drinkers?
At the moment, around half of wine consumers in Spain are aware of ecological wines (explained in the research as wines of organic, biodynamic or sustainable status). They value the health benefits of ecological wines and are happy to argue that its worth paying just a little bit more for them.
But 46% of wine consumers are still completely in the dark, unaware of what ecological wines are. The first crucial step towards broadening category engagement is to communicate the ecological message to the unaware. In fact, our research suggests that it is worth targeting those who are aware of, but don’t purchase, ecological wines: they also feel like it isn’t clear what ‘ecological’ means. To be fair, this is a problem shared by industry, where competing definitions and certifications make the category a bit complicated to navigate – and to research. Overall, current buyers and awares both agree that they want to learn more about ecological wines, suggesting that understanding of this category is low even amongst the converted.
Growth for a category like relies on the support from big retailers (think about the widespread adoption of screwcaps and subsequent changed in consumer perceptions). Systembolaget is leading the way, with 22% of their range certified organic. Retailers also have a duty to offer a consistent and quality range of ecological wines, to help build consumer trust and reassurance.
It is possible that in the UK the category started at the lower-end of the market, resulting in a consumer base who don’t yet trust ecological wines. But in Spain we could see the process in reverse, with high-end producers leading from the top down. It’s potentially an opportunity for producers to move away from heavy, robust wines to more elegant and restrained styles. In all, it could be a win-win for the consumer and producer.