UK brands with good off-premise distribution and above-average price points have resonated with consumers during the pandemic – will the good times continue after lockdown ends?
By most estimations, wine has had a ‘good’ pandemic in the UK, despite the shuttering of the on-premise and the steepest fall in economic activity for 300 years. And this in a market which has largely been in long-term volume decline for a decade or more. Within the wine category, Wine Intelligence consumer research data shows the biggest beneficiaries of the lockdown have been, in no particular order, supermarkets, online retailers, higher priced products and well-known brands.
The latter two factors – pricier products and well-known brands – have been a blessing to businesses who have either, or both. Last week Concha y Toro announced global sales up 17% for 2020, led by exports to the UK (+23%) and their brands including Casillero del Diablo and Trivento. Separately, high-end importers who specialise in well-known French regions and Champagne have told Wine Intelligence of a strong second half of 2020 and early trading months of 2021.
This aligns with several interesting consumer behaviour trends that we have been tracking since the start of the lockdown. One is the ‘focus on the familiar’, a psychological phenomenon associated with people recovering from trauma, and explored in a Wine Intelligence Weekly post a year ago this week.
While Covid has clearly caused plenty of deep traumas, data collected by our parent business IWSR about broader attitudes and life plans in the UK shows that UK consumers in general have retained a strong degree of confidence and optimism in their own finances and ability to adapt to the restrictions of the Covid era. Even so, the fortunate ones who could work from home for example, have still felt some combination of anxiety, uncertainty, boredom and frustration at the wider situation and the immediate limitations of lockdown.
It appears that, in wine brands at least, focus on the familiar manifests during such times of uncertainty. The wine category in the UK, as in many markets, has benefited from people wanting to enjoy something they know and like, and perhaps indulging themselves in a way they would not do normally. Although this relationship with wine varies across markets, in the UK, the focus on the familiar has benefited brands that already operate above the average price paid at the checkout for a bottle wine in the UK, which is still around £6.50. By ‘indulging’, we mean spending a bit above normal, which for most consumers in the UK would be £8-10 per bottle.
In this context, it is interesting to see some of the patterns in our UK consumer data for wine brand health. As discussed in our Brand Power Index the upheavals of the past year have had some fairly dramatic effects on certain brand metrics that normally move more slowly.
In the UK, awareness levels for the leading brands in the UK have grown over the past year. Distinctive visual brands such as Yellow Tail, Casillero del Diablo, Oyster Bay, Barefoot and Campo Viejo have all improved their awareness levels during this period. These brands have also benefited from being more widely distributed and prominent in mainstream supermarkets, and in some cases have maintained or even increased their marketing investment.
The combination of familiarity, ease of recognition, and availability would appear to be the right combination to meet a consumer need built on the desire for the familiar, a desire to ‘grab and go’ when in retail settings, and a desire to seek out a more indulgent product, when the alternative might have previously been an own-label product or deep discount exclusive brand.
The other Wine Intelligence brand health metrics in the UK suggest that UK wine consumers have been shopping a narrower brand repertoire during the past 12 months– again, focusing on the more familiar and trusted at the expense of brands on the periphery of their portfolio.
To a certain extent, the winners of lockdown have been those that have increased brand awareness, as there is a well-established correlation between growing awareness and growing usage. This legacy of lockdown is likely to remain a powerful driver of sales, especially if brands that have remained central to consumer needs during lockdown continue to deliver on the fundamentals of brand value – namely taste, trust and perceived value, as outlined in our post on this topic in August of last year.