A key question for wine business in 2021 is: taking into account the impact on consumer priorities during the pandemic, do consumers still care about sustainability when it comes to wine?
The short answer is: sort of. The longer and more helpful answer is: yes, though consumer perceptions about what constitutes ‘sustainability’ in wine are evolving. In the US, just over half (58%) of regular wine drinkers say that they worry about climate change and are taking actions to reduce their personal impact, whilst almost the same proportion of US regular drinkers (56%) are now actively trying to buy local products. A similar trend towards local purchasing has also emerged in other key wine markets, with drinkers in Australia and Canada also shifting towards local over imported during 2020.
So, what has driven this shift to localism over the past year? As human beings, we seek solace and comfort in the familiar during uncertain times. Since the start of the pandemic, this desire for familiarity has translated into a desire for buying local produce, including local in wine. In markets where there is accessible local wine, consumers state that they are actively seeking out local wine options, leading to a challenge for wine business: how can a wine business overcome localism in export markets?
The environmental benefits of buying local are well-known by consumers, such as fewer food miles and a smaller and a more transparent supply chain. However, this key shift in consumer sentiment through 2020 and into 2021 has been towards consumers’ desire to support local communities.
When it comes to who is leading this shift towards sustainable, male regular wine drinkers have a higher connection with sustainability than female regular wine drinkers, with a higher proportion of men claiming they are willing to spend more on a sustainable product and are more willing to give up convenience for a sustainable product, perhaps challenging some industry held stereotypes. Less surprisingly, it is younger regular wine drinkers (LDA Gen-Z and Millennials) who are significantly more connected to sustainability in wine.
Perhaps a key challenge – and opportunity – for wine lies in the fact that wine drinkers currently believe that wine – particularly wine in glass bottles – is already ‘sustainable’, particularly in comparison to other drinks categories. In fact, stating that a wine is ‘natural’ on the front label increases the likelihood to buy amongst US wine drinkers by 8% compared to the same wine which has no additional claim. When interviewing US drinkers, there is often a confusion between wine made in a natural method versus wine in general, with them typically believing that ‘all wine is natural’.
Given the positive associations that consumers already have with wine and the general associations with wine as being a natural product, perhaps one way for exporters to overcome the move towards localism is to reiterate the ‘natural’ elements of our category.