The biggest threat to the wine industry in the next decade may be coming from regular wine drinkers substituting wine for other drinks at certain occasions, such as hard seltzer and cannabis wine
Until recently, wine has managed to navigate both the moderation and diversification trends in the US market quite successfully – in stark contrast to mainstream beer, which has seen double digit volume declines amongst the main brands. From 1992 to just last year, wine has seen an epic quarter of a century of volume and value growth in the US, and while value is still growing slightly, volume this year looks like it will be flat or slightly down, according to most reputable forecasters.
What’s becoming apparent from Wine Intelligence tracking data is that the wine category in the US is now being affected by trends relating to moderation and portfolio diversification. Consider the following tracking measures: based on our calibration data, 68% of US adults say they consume alcohol, the same proportion who had consumed alcohol in 2018 (source: Wine Intelligence 2019 US Calibration Study). Digging a little deeper into our evidence, we estimate that the regular wine drinker population (those who drink wine at least once per month), has fallen from 84 million drinkers to 77 million drinkers – that’s a loss of about 6-8 million (allowing for estimation error) monthly drinkers in 12 months, or about 10%.
So, are these consumers just drinking wine at fewer occasions? Are they drinking less wine at the same number of occasions, or are they switching to other alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages?
The answer, as it turns out, is all of the above. We know that the proportion of frequent wine drinkers (those that drink wine at least once per week) in the US has fallen from 79% in 2015 to 73% in 2019 (source: Wine Intelligence Vinitrac® US, July 2015, July 2019, October 2019). Concurrently, 12% of regular US wine drinkers say that they are drinking less wine as they’ve switched to other alcoholic beverages (Vinitrac® US, October 2019).
Does this mean that wine’s loss is other categories gain? In many cases, the answer is yes: 55% of US regular wine drinkers, who are switching from wine at some occasions, are now embracing either beer or the burgeoning hard seltzer category, whilst 46% are turning to vodka from wine for some of their drinking occasions and 45% are consuming whisk(e)y instead of wine (source: Wine Intelligence Vinitrac® US, October 2019).
These very alternative choices of drinks that are replacing wine, on the surface, appear to be very different to each other and surely not like-for-like replacements. How can either hard seltzer or whiskey be considered by consumers to be an alternative to wine? The insight lies in the notion of plurality. In line with societal shifts, drinkers are no longer defining themselves as a ‘whiskey person’ or a ‘rum guy’. What we are doing is saying actually ‘I’m a bit of everything’. We are now more likely to start the evening off with a glass of fizz, switch to a cocktail pre-dinner and then perhaps enjoy a glass of wine, rather than sticking to a single choice across the occasion. This behaviour then continues…’today is a sangria or non-alcoholic cocktail day, celebrating a family lunch will be a hard cider moment, while I’ll have a glass of wine with my co-workers for a birthday celebration.’
Therefore, we are seeing increasingly diversified carousel of drinks portfolios by occasion. Into this mix, very soon, will come cannabis-infused beverages that are marketing themselves as lifestyle drinks, that will in some cases look a bit like wine, in others, like beer or spirits. When that happens, we are predicting a continuation of the tendency to drink a bit of this, and a bit of that, depending on where, when and who you’re with.
As it happens, I am an archetype of this new behaviour. While I remain a committed wine lover, gin has become a more frequent pour in our house, influenced primarily by my 20-something-year-old children, nieces, and godchildren – their drink of choice, particularly if somebody else is buying!
Before the local wine shops get nervous, Chardonnay will forever remain my first true love. However drinks retailers may wish to start stocking a broader range – indeed some, such as my local branch of Majestic Wine Warehouse, already have an impressive gin offer. The days of monogamous alcohol relationships are gone – welcome to plural world.