The French may learn to love lower alcohol wine – if they can find it
It may not come as welcome news to the purists, but wine drinkers in France say they may be in the market for lower alcohol wine. While across Le Manche, Britain’s Health minister is asking the EU to have the definition of wine reclassified to include lower alcohol products – down to 4.5% – which hitherto didn’t meet that technical definition according to the EU (read more here). So when 20% of wine drinkers in France tell us they would be happy to trial a 6-8.5% ABV ‘wine’, are they serious?
Our recent investigations show that French consumers have three concerns when it comes to the matter of lower alcohol in wine. First, there is an uncertainty and perhaps mis-trust about how the wine will taste. Second, there is a general lack of awareness that these wines are even available. Finally, and perhaps most fundamentally, there is a lack of in-store visibility: we simply do not see them when we are in store and shopping so they do not become part of our consideration set.
To get a more practical sense of these main barriers, we decided to put ourselves in our typical consumers’ shoes and visited French supermarkets to investigate further. Well, not so typical consumers as it turns out, as we set ourselves a very specific shopping mission: finding a 6-8.5% and a 9-10% ABV wine. In other words, we were highly motivated, perhaps even over-eager to find these wines.
In the first store (a hypermarket), I headed quite naively towards the wine shelf but found nothing except ‘normal ABV’ wines of at least 11%. Having drawn a blank, I changed strategy and decided to sift through the more general alcoholic drinks section. And here it was: the low alcohol wines were lying close to the summer cocktails kits, where spirits such as Malibu and Passoa were displayed. It transpired that my only options when it came to a lower alcohol wine were aromatised & fruit-mixed wines such as rosé pamplemoussed (grapefruit). So fair enough, if I am a young adult looking for fun cocktails, I will be exposed to an offer of mixed or infused wines. But even then, I couldn’t find a bottle that actually looked like what an average consumer would refer as ‘wine’.
The second store visit was conducted by my colleague Jean-Philippe, in his (quite small) neighbourhood supermarket. The first thing he quite easily spotted were not lower alcohol but alcohol-free wines: the pioneer brand “Bonne Nouvelle” (see picture 1) and the new “0% Ice Tropez”, made obvious by a rather prominent shelf-talker “C’est nouveau” (see picture 2). Good news for the alcohol-free wines: they are visible and being displayed in the wine aisle, one would intuitively classify them as being a ‘wine’. He then spent another couple of minutes and found a lower alcohol wine (Fruits and Wine, 7% ABV) (see picture 3). And as I had done, he also found a rather extensive shelf space dedicated to ‘rosé pamplemousse’ and other aromatised wines. Still nothing without added aromas that was simply a lower alcohol wine.
As he can be stubborn, Jean-Philippe kept looking, searching for the % ABV on each wine label, often having to refer to the back label. It’s a very tedious task and he stopped after 10 minutes (the supermarket was about to close), with no success.
To recap this very modest piece of qualitative research: the alcohol-free or lower alcohol aromatised wine offers are widely available and visible in store. The rosé pamplemousse is a huge success in the French market and there is further opportunity for other aromatised and mixed wines offers. However, there appears to be a potentially and even bigger opportunity for a lower alcohol wine that actually looks and tastes like wine. We are also able to confirm what consumers told us in our earlier study : “we don’t see them in store”. They might exist, but you have to spend a great deal of energy to find them.
So, how can wine producers succeed in this market in France? Consider a brand extension, as it will act as a reassurance cue with consumers thinking ‘If this brand makes ‘normal’ wine, then this one will probably also ok because they know what they are doing’. Packaging design is another cue brand owners use to support these types of wines. The ‘Bonne Nouvelle’ alcohol-free wine brand is a great example. It looks like a wine, communicates on the basis of being made from ‘French wines’ and is displayed in the wine aisle. In other words, it doesn’t try to be something other than a wine. Simple but effective shelf talkers do create purchase decisions right there and then in store, so are vital to support this newer wine category. We may even persuade the retails to develop a dedicated section for these wines. After all, surely they are good for both us and them?