The tide of ethical consumerism is on the rise, and the fortunes of sustainable, organic, lower alcohol and other alternative wine products are rising within it, according to our latest SOLA report
How does the concept of sustainability translate into everyday consumer behaviour? This question is becoming a central topic of conversation in societies around the world, not least because of mounting evidence of climate change, environmental degradation, and social dislocation in many leading economies. Allied to it are trickier questions: what does ‘sustainability’ actually mean? How motivational is sustainability to a micro-economic decision made by a consumer to choose Product A over Product B?
The normally conservative wine category has arguably been at the forefront of thinking about sustainability and related ethical and environmental practices over the past few years. In everything from the agricultural practices that underpin vineyard management, through winemaking, energy usage, packaging and distribution, wine is showing itself to be at least matching the ‘sustainability’ thinking in other categories.
This effort has produced a diverse set of product sub-categories that are referred to collectively as ‘alternative wines’— all characterised by a combination of positive desires: to make more environmentally-responsible and sustainable wine, to give consumers a choice beyond the mainstream and to cater to a committed, growing population.
In 2018, Wine Intelligence developed the first global SOLA (short for Sustainable, Organic, Lower-Alcohol and Alternative) wine opportunity index. We surveyed consumer sentiment towards 12 alternative wine types in 11 key wine markets. The opportunity index considered the relative opportunities by market of wines that are lower in alcohol, non-alcoholic, Fairtrade, organic, sustainably produced, environmentally friendly, from a carbon neutral winery, biodynamic, preservative free, sulphite free, orange / skin contact, vegan and with the addition of vegetarian. It took into consideration awareness (people who are aware of the types of wine), purchase intent (people who have specifically bought the wine in the past 6 months or intend to buy it) and affinity (people who think the type of wine is right for people like them).
The 2019 report brings an expanded scope and, we believe, an even better picture of alternative wine opportunity across the world. We have advanced the index by adding an additional alternative wine type, vegetarian wine, and have added five markets to the scope, with the global index now representative of 250 million regular wine drinkers from a broad spread of geography, culture and economic development. Additionally, the 2019 Global SOLA opportunity index is also tracked on a like-for-like basis against the 2018 index to measure how alternative wine opportunity has, or has not, changed within the past year. While the expansion of country scope has no impact on results at an individual country level, the weighted global wine opportunity score is now based on a broader scope of countries than before, which we believe improves the quality of this measure.
The prominence of the organic movement continues to be evident: organic wine tops the SOLA wine opportunity index for the second year in a row, most likely due to the popularity of organic food across the world. Following closely behind is Fairtrade wine and generic concept wines ‘sustainably produced’ and ‘environmentally friendly’— all three types associated with a blend of social, economical and environmental responsibility. There is less appeal for alternative wines with more complex titles including orange / skin contact wine as well as biodynamic wine. Interestingly, even though veganism and vegetarianism is on the rise, these two SOLA wine categories rank the lowest in the 2019 global SOLA wine opportunity index. While our trade input suggests that there is a general lack of understanding surrounding the definition of many alternative wines, our data displays a rise in opportunity index scores for most alternative wine types, driven by increasing awareness amongst consumers. So, despite this confusion amongst consumers, what is driving this increase in alternative wine awareness?
The answer appears to be found in a more fundamental shift in consumer attitudes, led by the younger generation. What was once seen as ‘hippy’ is now the mainstream, with many consumers, particularly those under the age of 45, adopting socially, environmentally and economically responsible habits. This requires companies to act more ethically responsible and more transparent, which naturally also applies to the wine industry. Certification for ethical practices is not only available for all sorts of products, but also increasingly found on wine labels. Wine drinkers are looking for alternative wines, extending their sense of responsibility to their wine drinking choices.
Younger wine drinkers present the most opportunity for alternative wines due to their open-minded attitudes and willingness to invest time, education and money into their health. Young wine drinkers are not only more likely to purchase alternative wines such as organic, Fairtrade or sustainable wines compared with older drinkers, but are also more willing in general to pay a premium for wine in the off- and on-trade. However, the challenge will be to engage this cohort with the alternative wine category, as younger consumers are very much attuned to other drinks categories (craft beer, gin, etc) and also are less likely to be participants in the alcoholic beverage category to begin with.
Author: Emily Carroll