Changing priorities have led to UK wine drinkers being less influenced by taste and style descriptions both in store and on labels or by matching wine with their food choices
Amid the radical and enforced changes in lifestyle brought on by the Covid era, UK wine drinkers have largely remained consistent in their wine buying – in some cases, they have found themselves buying more than we used to and buying better.
After eight months of varying levels of restrictions and a new UK national lockdown coming into force on Thursday this week, our data suggests UK wine drinkers have shifted in terms of where they shop for wine towards online and supermarkets; and also the occasions at which they consume wine – more often without food these days.
However, the latest information from our UK Vinitrac® consumer survey is that the pandemic may also be adjusting the purchase cues they use when deciding what bottle(s) to buy.
Data from our consumer survey in August suggests that four major choice cues, the factors consumers take into account when choosing wine, are less important now than they were in 2019, as seen in the chart below:
What might be happening here? While short-run trends are not necessarily meaningful of anything, and these changes, while statistically significant, are not radical, it is useful to hypothesise on what might be going on to cause these behavioural ripples. Below is our take on what might be happening – and whether its impact will reach beyond the current crisis.
- Taste or wine style descriptions on the shelves or on wine labels
We know from our previous research that in-store shopping has become a more time-sensitive activity with wine drinkers spending less time browsing shelves or taking time to handle bottles and read labels. We think this is influencing a decline in the proportion of UK wine drinkers who are influenced by descriptors compared with a year ago, dropping from the 2nd most important choice cue for wine to the 3rd. To read a back label, you have to have time, the inclination and no qualms that you might be blocking the aisle for someone else.
- Wine that matches or compliments food
Our data globally, including in the UK, shows that wine occasions outside mealtimes have been the biggest driver of growth in the category in recent months. This switch to consuming wine more frequently without food has led to UK drinkers being significantly less influenced by wine and food matching than they were a year ago. This switch brings an opportunity for wine, with more consumers now drinking wine at non-food occasions, so opening up the range of occasions for wine drinking and potentially wine styles too.
- Alcohol content
There has also been a significant decline in the proportion of UK wine drinkers who are influenced by alcohol levels when choosing wine. The drivers of this change are less clear cut. One hypothesis is that since consumers are drinking proportionally more at home due to closures in the on-trade, they are likely to be less concerned about alcohol content as there is less need to take into consideration travel and especially driving. It may also be that the long-run growth in the importance of alcohol levels as a purchase decision cue, mainly arising from people who wanted to cut down on alcohol for long-term health and wellbeing reasons, has been put on the back burner by a consumer population which has more pressing short-term health and wellbeing matters to worry about.
- Appeal of the bottle and / or label design
An enduring (and well researched) aspect of human behaviour is that people turn to the safe and familiar during times of crisis. Since March 2020, wine drinkers have done just that. Consumers are being much more ‘safe’ with their wine choices – choosing their wine based on what they know rather than branching out and trying something new. As a consequence, familiar and known labels are gaining both attention and market share, while the finer points of label design have become less of a concern.
Whether or not these are long-term changes is difficult to gauge at this point. However even such short-run shifts may need to be taken into account as we work out how to label, promote and communicate wine most effectively to connect with our consumers in the next 12 months.