Yes, we missed one obvious one – but then so did everyone else. How did our predicted wine consumer trends for 2020 stand up in the face of an extraordinary 12 months?
As far as behaviour trend forecasting goes in 2020, the opening words of A Tale of Two Cities could not be more apt: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. The best, in that by throwing a giant monkey wrench into the world of human behaviour, the Covid era has created a huge demand for data on what we as consumers are doing now, why, and what we might do next. The worst: all predictions in the Covid era are made in the full awareness that the speed of events may render our assumptions worthless very quickly.
One might sensibly ask: why have forecasts and predictions in the first place? When asked this directly, I tend to reach for two well-worn military axioms: “time spent in reconnaissance is rarely wasted” and “no battleplan survives contact with the enemy”. It requires more than a little element of cognitive dissonance to reconcile both of these sayings, given that they stress planning and research, and yet acknowledge that events can render such efforts apparently redundant.
However, if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that planning and preparation, acknowledgement of broader and longer term trends and sensible decision-making when the easy option is to panic has served businesses in the wine category well. While the evidence so far is largely anecdotal, it feels like organisations that hadn’t planned, or thought about the future, have struggled.
So, in that positive spirit towards the idea of making predictions – even if they don’t survive 5 minutes into contact with reality – that we can review what we said in December 2019, which will warm us up nicely for next year’s predictions, arriving in your Wine Intelligence Weekly before the Christmas break.
- Wine volume consumption will decline at a global level
In December 2019 we said that global wine consumption would decline overall in 2020. It’s easy to forget that 2019 was quite a gloomy year for the wine category, and it was in this vein that we made our pitch for continued decline. The evidence so far is suggesting that this prediction will come true, though not for the reasons we thought – nor will the decline be as precipitous as we feared. Instead, we have seen something of a rollercoaster year in most markets – in some, such as Australia, China and Canada, recalled consumption dipped during the first lockdown and has bounced back in the second half of the year. In others, such as the US and the UK, wine consumption surged when lockdown forced consumers to stay at home and not spend money on going out or vacations, and is now settling back as consumers rein in spending in anticipation of tougher economic conditions in 2021. Covid’s silver lining for wine as a drink was its ability to be uplifting, comforting, culturally diverse and intellectually interesting when all those characteristics were in such short supply elsewhere.
- Sustainability and other responsibility signalling will get more critical scrutiny
Sustainability seems to have taken a back seat during the first part of the pandemic, when consumers were less interested in the finer points of what they were buying, and more interested in getting groceries and getting back home as fast as possible. We said in December 2019 that there would be more scrutiny of sustainability claims, and more rejection of ones that are spurious or irrelevant. The year has brought a definition of natural wine from France, and some more efforts to connect consumers with more of the serious work that wine businesses are doing to combat climate change. However, the searing critique of those who peddle ‘greenwash’ was absent. Instead, Covid-19 itself was perhaps the biggest contributor to sustainability in 2020: people drove less, flew less, consumed less and – in the wine category – bought a lot more bag-in-box wines, reducing the category’s reliance on carbon-intensive glass.
- CBD wine will start to appear more frequently on shelf where it’s legal
The CBD revolution in wine is not yet upon us, though the virus crisis appears to be hastening the arrival in the mainstream of the idea that cannabis compounds do have some health benefits (though exactly what these are continues to be a source of debate). We noted in December 2019 that it took the hard seltzer category seven years to become mainstream, and the cannabis wine category may take as long (or even longer). The fact that it exists, has serious players behind it and is innovating products at a time when people are looking for ways to enhance their health, suggests this is a longer-term trend that will be with us long into the coronavirus era.
- It will be a renaissance year for some of the less high-profile wine producing countries: Germany, South Africa, Portugal, Greece
In December we suggested that 2020 would be a year where some old styles become new again to the next generation of consumers – high quality German Riesling, the refreshing whites and great value red blends from South Africa and Portugal, and the fascinating array of lighter white wine styles coming from countries such as Greece. Fresh premium rosé wine styles will also advance, probably from outside the Provence region where their success is starting to constrain supply. Why these? We suggested they would meet the growing consumer trend for more aromatic, fresh, lower alcohol whites and lower tannin but interesting reds. With the notable exception of South Africa, where the politics of the coronavirus stopped the wine industry’s ability to sell its product, the fresher, low tannin style appears to be advancing on all fronts.
- More businesses will invest in visually appealing packaging and serve formats
For 2020 we predicted that one of the most exciting areas of change would be in packaging and serve formats. In this area we seem to be right, but not necessarily for the reasons we stated. As it turns out, the packaging innovation has been towards products that are easy to buy in bulk (box wine) when you are shopping during lockdown, or in easily portable formats such as cans for the al fresco occasion that has replaced a visit to the bar or restaurant. Those businesses that have invested in making their (traditional glass bottle) product more noticeable, widely distributed and visually appealing in the past few years also got rewarded: when shopper dwell time was constrained, and hand-selling by shop staff impractical, brands that had compelling and recognisable look and feel jumped off the shelf a lot more easily than those whose attractions were muted or disguised in poorly-designed packages.
Author: Richard Halstead