UK wine consumers are declining in number, but those that remain are trading up and adopting a more involved stance towards their wine-drinking habits

Only a few years ago the meteoric rise of Aldi and Lidl looked like it had the potential to revolutionise the UK wine retail landscape. However times may be changing: for the first time in 5 years Aldi and Lidl aren’t growing their wine consumer base, with 16% of UK regular wine drinkers having bought wine from Aldi in the last 6 months compared to 18% in 2015, and 12% from Lidl, no change from 2015.

Discounters as a channel in general are down in the short term, with only 29% of UK regular wine drinkers buying wine there in the last 6 months compared to 35% a year ago. While this may be a temporary wobble, evidence abounds of more fundamental changes happening which suggest it may be a more longer term trend.

The biggest change in the UK market is that the number of people drinking wine regularly in the UK has fallen over the past few years, from an estimated peak of 29 million in 2013 to around 25.5 million today. This has been accompanied by a downward drift in sales volumes, from 133 million 9L cases in 2010 to 120 million in 2015.

Those wine drinkers that remain committed to the category are showing greater involvement and higher spend. They are more likely to take more time when purchasing a bottle of wine, feel more confident in themselves when it comes to their knowledge about wine, and, more generally, claim to have a “strong interest in wine” to an extent significantly higher than last year. Attitudinally, we are seeing a statistically significant reduction in unadventurous drinkers who claim to “know what I like and tend to stick to what I know”.

This shift would go some way towards explaining why promotional offers are showing a long-term decline in importance as a choice cue for buying wine, whereas country of origin, region of origin, brand, and recommendations are taking centre stage in the beauty pageant that is the supermarket wine aisle.

This trend is, somewhat unsurprisingly, also reflected in their spending patterns: our data suggests they are spending more liberally than last year in exchange for somewhat better booze in the off-trade. This appears to hold for all occasions tested: relaxing drinks at the end of the day at home, with both formal and informal meals in the home, at parties/celebrations, and as gifts for somebody else. Across the board, UK regular wine drinkers are trading up in wine.

The development manifests itself also in UK drinkers’ choice of varietals, as more obscure red grape varieties such as Tempranillo, Pinotage, Sangiovese, and Carmenère experience a boost in popularity to the detriment of more common varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.

A shift in attitudes towards wine closures is a further echo of heightened involvement on the part of UK regular wine drinkers. With an increasingly discerning attitude has come a growing rejection of synthetic corks, with a significantly higher proportion of drinkers than in 2015 expressing a dislike towards this closure type, instead preferring the more prestigious natural cork, or, if push came to shove, screwcap.

In the tidal world of wine, where one place sees an ebb another sees a surge. Such is it that, as the UK market contracts overall, the higher end of the market is, on its own more microscopic level, flooded with promise.

Author: David Thompson