Behind the scenes of Wine Intelligence’s 5th global workshop series
We buy things every day. Why? Because, in most cases, they are essentials for life. Of course, some of the things we buy – that ice-cream in the park, the cinema ticket, a necklace, a bottle of wine – are not fundamental to our survival. Instead they might be considered fundamental to our wellbeing: the sorts of purchases that lift our spirits and make us smile.
If the motivations to buy essentials are basic and intrinsic – I’m hungry, I need to do laundry, etc – the more discretionary, uplifting purchases carry inherently more complicated motivations: what will this purchase do for my mood? How will it be perceived by others? Will I become a better person as a result of it? The bottom line is clear: the more successful a product or service is at delivering on these needs, the more likely a consumer will pay more for it.
Wine Intelligence’s latest workshop series, Driving Future Value in Wine, takes this challenge as its starting point and unpacks some of the characteristics that might make consumers spend more on a bottle of wine in the future. Understanding the drivers of certain behaviours – the changing demographics, culture and behaviour (often driven by technological change) are fundamental to adding value in the wine category; a strategy that doesn’t recognise these might work for the moment, but will eventually fall over.
Attendees in Sydney and Adelaide last month, and in the London workshop last week (Madrid and Lisbon are upcoming later this week and next), were shown how the wine drinker demographic is changing across most of the key consumption markets – in particular, becoming older and more female.
How people are buying wine is also changing – relative decline in interest in the ‘facts’ of a product, and a growing interest in ‘feelings’. What’s on the outside of the bottle is growing in importance relative to what’s on the inside, though people are not – at least, not consciously – going to buy a bottle that looks pretty but tastes awful.
What’s not changed is the perception of wine as special, convivial, aspirational – and, in most markets, expensive. In the group discussion element of the workshop, some attendees speculated that consumer expectations of product design and aesthetics have risen as other categories (electronics, cars, furniture, other drinks) have upped their game and embraced cutting-edge design.
While there was plenty of consensus among the workshop attendees on some points, there were plenty of alternative diagnoses and interpretations. The liveliest debates concerned the apparent growth in the appeal of visuals in wine at the expense of consumer knowledge. Could this be a consequence of the smartphone, where your need to remember stuff is reduced because you can always look it up? Or could it be that the wine category itself has focused more on brand and varietal over the past two decades and downplayed regionality? If facts were out of fashion, how come so-called secondary regions and varietals were growing in awareness?
The final element of the workshop took on the question of how these seismic trends in demographics, culture and behaviour impacted some of the newer and more exciting (at least to the trade) areas of wine product development: organic, sustainable, natural, and lower / no alcohol wine. Here the conclusions were mixed, and there was broad recognition that some of these category developments ran counter to the current consumer grasp of the category. Consumers’ default setting appears to be that wine is a natural, artisanal, wholesome product, so what is the difference between ordinary wine and ‘natural’ wine? Or organic wine? If wine is an alcoholic indulgence, why buy a low-alcohol or no-alcohol version?
If, as the data suggests, the world is moving away from drinking wine in quantity and at low prices, towards a world of spending more money on buying fewer, better bottles, the category as a whole is moving inexorably towards the discretionary, spiritually enhancing end of the consumer buying spectrum. In this new world, the rules are different. Sure, taste is important, as is value for money, but the category will need to provide more aesthetic and uplifting reasons to buy. Future value, the workshop suggests, will accrue to those who recognise these shifts and set strategy accordingly.
Author: Richard Halstead