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Moderation is a trend ringing in the ears of the wine industry – and as it suffuses the behaviour of the rising generation of drinkers, it is likely to be a factor in the industry for decades to come

Since 2007, the proportion of regular wine drinkers in the UK that drink wine on a near-daily basis has fallen from a quarter to a fifth. This trend is visible in nearly every market, with significantly fewer daily drinkers in Germany, the US, the Netherlands and South Korea. But who is really driving this trend? And does it show any signs of slowing down?

Primarily, the trend of moderation is being driven by younger consumers. Although Millennials are becoming more involved in wine, they are drinking much less than they used to. In the US, although only a third of regular wine drinkers are under 34, this age category makes up 47% of all consumers that claim to be actively reducing their alcohol intake. Compared with 28% of 35-54-year olds and 25% of over 55s, there is clearly a significant difference. This pattern is a multi-market reality, demonstrating that it is the younger drinkers who are driving this trend towards reduced alcohol consumption.

Perhaps not surprisingly, health consciousness is stated as the main motivator for purchase of a low-alcohol wine or a soft alternative. Particularly amongst younger people, recent years have seen the health and wellness trend take off across multiple sectors. This has caused consumers to re-evaluate their consumption habits – which rightly strikes fear into the alcohol industry. Today, two thirds of consumers state perceived health benefits to be a motivator for reducing the alcohol content of their wine. Linking directly to this is the knowledge that lower-alcohol wine contains less calories: a key purchase motivator for many health-conscious consumers. Some of the other most popular reasons given for opting for a low-alcohol alternative were enjoyment of taste and the ability to stay in control – a stark difference from the binge drinking culture that dominated the headlines a few years ago.

A big part of this moderation trend is therefore the focus on alcohol content, which has become an increasingly important factor for consumers when choosing a wine. While the way the question asked could indicate a desire for lower or higher alcohol, our follow-up qualitative interview research demonstrates that the vast majority of respondents mean lower alcohol (though whether this was always the case in the past is unknown). In the US and Australia, since 2011 there has been a 7% rise in the number of consumers who indicated alcohol content to be either ‘important’ or ‘very important’ when buying wine. In the UK and Japan, our research shows a greater increase of 11% and 8% respectively. Evidently, consumers are becoming more responsible with their alcohol choices and are trading down their ABV in exchange for healthier living. This has led to an explosion in the number of low- or no alcohol alternatives offered, particularly in the on-trade. When going out to eat, consumers now have a much wider range of options available to them, including menus full of alcohol-free ‘mocktails’, soft drink options and low-alcohol beers and wines. The on-trade (ie out of home) occasion also carries with it the potential issue of drinking and driving, which makes it a more salient occasion for low and no alcohol.  

To frighten the industry even more, initiatives such as Dry January in the UK and US and Dry February in Canada are encouraging those who drink regularly to cut out alcohol completely for one month a year. In the UK, up to 40% of Dry January participants are aged between 18 and 34 (Kantar), which fits with the findings discussed above. Dry January has even reached France, prompting consternation in an alcohol sector already under pressure from more draconian drink-drive laws and severe restrictions on alcohol advertising. As Éric Tesson, director of France’s CNAOC – the association of AOC production regions – recently said on Dry January: “It really does not sound like a very good idea”.

Next, the industry’s goal will be to re-connect with these young consumers and show them that they can fit into this trend of moderation. Although decreasing wine consumption is considered by many as a great threat to the industry, there is also an opportunity for brands to promote responsible drinking within their own product ranges. Perhaps more significant, the silver lining to the moderation trend is that consumers increasingly regard alcohol as a more cherished, special occasion substance, and are willing to invest more time, effort and money in the products they do choose to consume. Witness the transformation of the premium-level sales in categories such as gin, whisky and, increasingly, rum. For some canny producers, the trend of health and wellness does not seem to be applying the brakes to profits, and so it will be interesting to see how the wine industry as a whole reacts to the moderation challenge over the next few years.


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