In this most unpredictable of years, how have the trends and predictions for 2020, published in December 2019, held up?
It is both the best of times and the worst of times in the predictions business right now. In retrospect, the lack of a ‘deadly new global virus’ prediction from Wine Intelligence’s five predictions for 2020, published last December, was clearly a major omission. However, we are in good company in this respect, along with pretty much everyone else in the world who was looking ahead to the year 2020 and what the coming 12 months might bring.
So yes, crystal ball gazing seems a bit foolish in times like these. And yet, predictions and forecasts are more valuable at the moment than ever before. Not that any will be exactly right. In fact, I guarantee they will all be wrong, the only interesting thing being the extent of the wrongness.
So why do they matter? We need to have some clue where we are heading, and even if the fog that shrouds the future is particularly thick right now, it’s good to have some kind of directional guide, even if we know the limitations.
So it is in this vein – begging your indulgence – that I revisit the five things we said would happen in 2020, to see if any of them have aligned with reality. Overall, I think the only thing we got absolutely right was that it would be a difficult year for the wine category. But it could have been a lot worse.
- Wine volume consumption will decline at a global level
In December we said that global wine consumption would decline overall in 2020. We think this will come true, though clearly for more reasons than we offered at the time. Perhaps more interesting will be the fact that global wine consumption, while down, is not going to decline as much as, say, purchases of coffee to go, or meals out or luxury goods. In some markets, notably the US and some European markets, wine has benefited from people spending less money on going out, holidays and other leisure behaviour. The category’s ability to be uplifting, comforting and intellectually interesting has aligned perfectly with consumers’ need to retain some ‘fun’ in their lives when they are stuck at home, unable to carry on their lives as normal.
- Sustainability and other responsibility signalling will get more critical scrutiny
The sustainability conversation has not gone away, but its message is not as clearly heard or understood in an era where consumers are more worried about more immediate health and wellbeing concerns. We said in December that there would be more scrutiny of sustainability claims, and more rejection of ones that are spurious or irrelevant. We note that more formality and regulatory attention is now being paid to wines claiming certain sustainability benefits, with France introducing a definition of natural wine in April 2020. We also note the introduction of such things as ‘clean wine’, and the industry’s critique of such claims, best summarised with characteristic eloquence by both Robert Joseph last month, and more recently by Felicity Carter in The Guardian. As to the broader conversation around sustainability, we think that will resume in earnest once the airtime currently given to the virus and possible vaccines subsides.
- 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 appears to be a continuing source of debate). We noted in December 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 has stopped the wine industry’s ability to sell its product, the fresher, low tannin style appears to be advancing on all fronts, according to part-year data seen so far and feedback from the global supply chain.
- 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. We thought it would be driven by the needs of business to reduce carbon footprint, to offer more recyclable containers and to offer serve sizes that fit an age devoted to lowering volumes but increasing values. 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. We think that the longer-run trends of carbon reduction and environmental improvement will continue to matter, particularly as both are more likely to be taxed by governments trying to recoup the costs of coronavirus-related support for the economy.
We also said that astute brand owners would double down on investing in labelling and design that successfully treads the delicate line between distinctiveness and centrality in the wine category. This too has proven to be prescient, again not necessarily in the way we thought. Restrictions on how long you can spend – or want to spend – in a shop has meant that time in the wine aisle has been constrained. With less time to browse, consumers appear to be opting for brands they recognise and/or visual characteristics that appeal.