Despite the limitations of pandemic lockdowns, regular wine drinkers in the UK have maintained their frequency of wine consumption by finding new occasions for wine
Wine’s historical high ground has always been its close association with food and the overall dining experience– which is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, food-led occasions helped wine become a staple in many consumers’ drinking repertoires, and connected it intimately with both gastronomy and socialising; on the other, this has restricted wine’s movement into new occasion spaces, where it loses out to beer, spirits and cocktails.
For some time, wine brands have sought ways to connect with consumers beyond mealtimes, and now it seems that Covid-19 has offered a temporary opening for wine’s expansion into other occasions. This trend is proving to be particularly – though not exclusively – true of the UK market, where consumers have maintained their touch points with wine throughout the pandemic.
Between March 2019 and March 2021, there was a 3% increase in the frequency of self-reported wine consumption among regular wine drinkers in the UK’s on- and off-trade channels. During this time, there was a soft peak in frequency in August 2020, coinciding with the re-opening of the on-premise, the summer holiday season, and the more general opening up of the UK after its first lockdown.
But while regular wine drinkers were consuming wine on roughly the same number of occasions as they were pre-pandemic, they shifted where and when they were drinking, exploring new or less-established environments and occasions. This means that during the time that the on-premise was ordered to close or operate under restrictions – which have been in place constantly, in some form, since March 2020 – consumers were enjoying wine more frequently at home.
When we asked regular wine consumers why they were drinking more wine at home than before, their main reason was more than simply having a lack of other options – they said that since they were spending much more time at home, they could open a bottle and drink it over the course of a day or two, without worrying about it going to waste. The previous barrier to the at-home occasion – wine being packaged in a 75cl bottle – was less of an issue.
This has allowed wine to move more into early evening aperitif and non-food occasions. If such consumer behaviour becomes well established and likely to continue post-pandemic, this could have a positive impact on consumers’ connection with wine in the UK in the longer term.
However, it’s important to note another dynamic in the UK market, which is that the proportion of LDA adults who are drinking wine in the UK is shrinking. While regular wine drinkers are drinking wine slightly more frequently and in a greater number of occasions, there are fewer members of the total population of regular wine drinkers. This also is despite the fact that the wider population of LDA consumers in the UK has increased.
Wine Intelligence’s consumer research data shows that back in 2015, 59% of LDA adults in the UK were, or went on to become, regular wine drinkers, while 47% were weekly wine drinkers. Roll the clock forward to 2020 and both rates have fallen; now, 49% are regular wine drinkers and 39% are weekly wine drinkers. Proportionally, the category therefore has a smaller target of weekly and regular wine drinkers.
It could of course be argued that if wine’s movement into new occasions continues in the longer term, this could expose the category to a wider pool of consumers who could be recruited as regular drinkers. That depends on how the trend plays out once the atypical market conditions created by the pandemic start to dissipate.