Women are significantly under-represented among US wine drinkers who spend $15 or more on a bottle. Could they be the next growth opportunity?
In this era of gender politics, it takes a brave researcher to offer up potentially uncomfortable evidence of gender differences in everyday life. So it was with a bit of trepidation that I commissioned my analysis team at Wine Intelligence in 2018 to investigate how women differ from men when it comes to the wine category, in collaboration with Women of the Vine & Spirits.
Among the myths we busted was one about objective knowledge. It turns out women have, on average, the same wine knowledge levels as men – though this is often masked by the fact that men appear less inhibited about sharing the knowledge they do have. Female drinkers are also more open to buying wines labelled as organic, sustainable and fair trade.
One finding that did catch the eye was that women generally spend less money on wine than men. This finding held for all 6 markets we studied for the report (US, Canada, UK, Japan, China, Australia), but was especially true in the US market, where the female share of wine drinkers spending over $20 in off premise fell to 35% (vs 50% incidence in the monthly wine drinking population).
Our US Premium Wine Drinkers 2019 report in July also showed this lack of female participation in premium wine in general (defined as typical spend of $15+ in off premise) – at this level, the gender split is a very similar 64% male and 36% female.
What is happening here? One clue may come from differing gender attitudes to money in general. It has long been a cultural cliché that women should hold the purse strings, and recent data from online financial services would appear to bear this out. A study of its US customer base published in 2018 by Stash, an investing app, suggested that women were more cautious and sensible with their money, and less tolerant of risky or aggressive investing strategies. (A similar study in 2019 among UK private investors also reported very similar findings). Various academics, including the eminent US sociologist Kathleen Gerson, have also put forward similar theories regarding men’s impetuousness in spending their disposable income and financial risk-taking. Were it not to be an astonishing example of discrimination, as well as an unfolding PR nightmare as I write, Apple’s new credit card offering far more generous credit terms to males than their (female) partners, despite the fact that they have joint accounts, assets, and so on, might be considered to be smart business in this context.
So in life, so, it appears, in wine. Our US data on wine drinker attitudes consistently shows that, while women appear to know as much about wine as men, they are significantly less confident in that knowledge. As such, they gravitate towards reassurance and safety in their wine choices, and will often opt for a cheaper, tried-and-tested wine over a more expensive and unknown product. I am now beginning to understand the everyday-sexist trope of my husband being handed the wine list in a restaurant, and him receiving more attention from the wine store clerk when we were in New York in the summer (as it happens, conducting qualitative research for the same Premiums report). Consciously or not, retailers and sommeliers alike seem to know who is more likely to boost the transaction value.
So, as we consider the absence of women in the US premium wine consumer base – out of 22 million, 14 million are men, so theoretically to match the monthly wine drinking population we are missing 6 million or so women – it’s clear that we need to work a bit harder to convince my gender that expensive wine is worth buying. We could start by admitting we have not serviced important cues that are more typically valued by women. For instance, we heard a lot from female interviewees in New York and Chicago about the need to make purchase decisions that would fit in with their social peers (who would be most likely to drink it). For the avoidance of doubt, this does not necessarily mean feminine packaging and gimmicks. Instead, I wonder what might happen if wine retailers and sommeliers started thinking more about the female customer and delivering a more supportive and reassuring experience for them? As a starting point, maybe hand me the wine list next time?