Consumer interest in more moderate drinking has been steadily increasing over the past decade, creating a potential long-term market opportunity for low-alcohol and no-alcohol wines. However thus far, wine with less alcohol in it, and for that matter no-alcohol wines as well, have not made a strong impact on the category compared with other no/low-alcohol subcategories, such as no/low-alcohol beer or RTDs.
Why is this? The consumer data collected by Wine Intelligence over the past 5 years has been telling a similar story: no- and low-alcohol wine is a good idea in theory, but consumers are often disappointed by the taste profile of products in these categories, and prefer to opt for other no- or low-alcohol beverages, or simply pouring a smaller measure of full strength wine. The lack of enthusiasm for the category then creates a feedback loop where retailers refuse to stock products that are showing poor rate of sale, which in turn restricts availability for those genuinely seeking out products to buy.
However more recent Wine Intelligence consumer findings indicate that a potential winner in this growing category is sparkling wines that are naturally lower in alcohol and are thus perceived as ‘pure’ products, versus wines that need heavy manipulation in the winery to have lower alcohol content.
Wellness, healthier lifestyle have an impact on mature markets
Globally, in mature markets, self-moderation is on the rise, with more than one-third of regular wine drinkers saying they are cutting back on alcohol consumption. The percentage of regular wine drinkers who say they are self-moderating ranges from 36% in Japan to 58% in Switzerland. In two countries, the Netherlands and Switzerland, a majority of regular wine drinkers say they are cutting back, with Ireland nearly at the 50-50 mark (49%).
“The desire for moderation is most marked, in all countries, in the legal drinking age LDA-to-35 age group, while those less likely to change their alcohol consumption are over 55,” notes Lulie Halstead, CEO Wine Intelligence.
These consumer behaviours are reflected in market data as well – IWSR forecasts show that the consumption of total litres of pure alcohol will rise more slowly than total beverage alcohol volume over the coming years, with pure alcohol consumption not recovering back to pre-Covid levels until after 2025. This is due to a trend towards lower ABV categories.
The reasons for moderating alcohol intake vary from one country to another and they differ by age group. But across all markets, consumers report that looking after one’s health and wellbeing is the primary driver: calorie reduction, feeling better the next day, avoiding the stress of social awkwardness, a purer lifestyle. In Australia, Belgium and Switzerland, driving is also cited as a factor; in Japan, avoiding next-day headaches and staying in control are concerns.
Wine not yet keeping up with the trend
But wine is not yet fully embracing the overall trend towards health & moderation. Both no- and low-alcohol wines lag behind offerings such as organic and sustainably produced wines, for consumer recognition and interest in purchasing them. The majority of wine drinkers reported that they were not actively seeking to buy wines with no- or low-alcohol.
So what’s getting in the way? Nine key markets highlighted by Wine Intelligence, as well as global numbers, show similar barriers to the potential no- and low-alcohol wine sales. Regular wine drinkers express concern about the taste of the wines, the lack of alcoholic effect and poor availability. Linked to poor availability is a lack of knowledge about these wines.
“The main barrier to purchasing lower alcohol wine, globally, is that it does not contain enough alcohol to feel an effect,” says Halstead. “Additionally, European consumers are more likely to not purchase no/low wines because they are not considered to be ‘wine’.”
What motivates consumers to drink wine – market and age differences
A key to understanding opportunities for lower alcohol beverages is to look at what motivates people to drink wine. “Motivations for any drinking decision blend both emotional needs (‘I want to feel…’) and functional or physical needs (‘I’d like to have something…’). Then, underpinning emotional and physical needs, there are the broader contexts of the consumption occasion, where social expectations are balanced with more personal desires,” remarks Halstead. “The ideal positioning allies something that can be demonstrably ‘better for you’ without losing the reward element.”
Wine remains the drink of choice for connection, taste experience, celebration and distinction, and second choice after beer for self-reward and discovery, thus ranking in first or second place out of nine “suitability of need states by beverage” tracked by Wine Intelligence.
Younger LDA regular wine drinkers place a far greater emphasis than older consumers on lifestyle motivations. In the US and the UK, a significant percentage of LDA to 34-years olds cite as motivations: wine is a fashionable drink; it makes me feel individual and unique; it makes people sophisticated.
These motivation needs for younger LDA regular wine drinkers highlight potential opportunities for naturally lower alcohol sparkling wines. In the US, for example, 30% of regular wine drinkers say they “would definitely prefer to buy a bottle of Champagne that has lower alcohol levels”- lower than 10% ABV.
The UK is a market that until 2016 saw stellar growth in sparkling wines, with IWSR data showing volume CAGR of sparkling wine consumption in the UK at +14% 2011 to 2016. However, this falls to -1%, 2020-2025, and Wine Intelligence consumer data shows older drinkers leaving the category. Younger LDA drinkers, however, are increasing the frequency of their consumption – this is the same age group that shows a high level of self-moderation: 56% of those aged 18-34, versus 38% of those who are 35 to 54 years old.
Notable in recent Wine Intelligence UK consumer research is the increased interest in sparkling wines by younger LDA men as well. Frequent (weekly+) sparkling wine drinkers in the UK tend to skew male, with 43% of 18-34 male participants in the category reporting they drink sparkling at least once a week, and 36% of 35-54s drinking on the same frequency. Over half (56%) of UK wine drinkers aged 18-34 feel “competent about my knowledge of sparkling wines.”
“The biggest opportunities for no- and low- alcohol wines lie with brands that are able to tap into lifestyle motivations as well those able to educate consumers about the category offerings,” says Halstead. “If that brand can sustain a ‘reward’ positioning while at the same time delivering a tangible benefit, say lower alcohol or lower calorie, then it could break this market wide open.”
You may also be interested in reading:
- New behaviours drive wine market opportunities in the UK
- Which key macro factors are driving the global wine industry in 2021?
- Millennials drive the sparkling wine category