Despite a brief rally during Covid, wine has been ceding share of the beverage alcohol market in Belgium to other alcohol categories. A decade ago, wine accounted for more than a quarter of alcohol volumes in Belgium, but by 2026 is projected to slip to little more than a fifth, despite a brief rally during the pandemic when drinkers switched from beer during the lockdowns.
Although the adult population of Belgium has increased since 2017, the number of regular wine drinkers has decreased, with more consumers perceiving wine as being expensive and fewer drinkers now associating drinking wine with pleasure. It appears Belgians are increasingly seeing wine as offering less value for money but costing more, compared with other alcohol categories. The issues for the wine sector are reflected in a deteriorating knowledge of the category with a marked downturn identified between 2020 and 2022.
Belgium has a reputation for having a rich brewing heritage but drinking trends and product preferences can differ across each region with Flanders more aligned to the Dutch, Wallonia to the French and Brussels to the international community and Wallonia. There was significant immigration to Wallonia from Spain and Italy from the 1950s onwards, so in this area consumers traditionally were more likely to see wine as a daily drink and normally consumed at mealtimes.
It is during this key dinner time occasion that wine use is diminishing and this helps to explain the shrinking consumption. Still wine’s association with food declines with age, with 63% of ‘boomers’ motivated by matching their food to wine falling to 50% for Gen Z, with Millennial’s even lower at just 31%. It can be concluded that the importance of wine at the dinner table will continue to wane as the population ages, and as LDA Gen Z and Millennials bring their existing habits into their older years.
Although there is a fall in the consumption of wine during eating times, there is also a shift to drinking before dinner or at the end of the day. This pre-dinner drink event is gaining momentum with regular wine drinkers increasingly viewing wine as a “relaxing drink at the end of the day at home” and less to be enjoyed with an “informal meal at home”.
Sparkling wine has proved popular during the early evening consumption occasion and this has helped to reverse the downward trend in the sparkling wine category, which is now being pushed up, in part, by the rise of the Spritz. Driven mainly by competitively priced Prosecco, the sparkling wine market is now forecasted to expand by nearly a tenth in the next five years. Prosecco is already ahead of its 2019 level, although part of this has come at the expense of Cava, even in its Flanders stronghold. Prosecco is projected to overtake Cava sales in 2024 having been less than half of the size pre-Covid.
Further evidence in the changing role of wine away from the dinner table in Belgium may be found in the emergence of the Rosé segment. Rosé is not as closely linked to food as red or white wine, and is not as tied to dining as red and white wines. While red and white wines have contracted significantly since 2018, rosé wine has increased. Importantly, rosé wine has not just been winning existing consumers, but it has been bringing new drinkers into the category as well.
The progress of rosé indicates that consumers and younger LDA drinkers in particular, will not be bound by longstanding wine drinking conventions, but are willing to adopt newer habits. The majority of LDA Gen Z and Millennial wine drinkers are seeking to experiment with their choice of wine, whereas boomers are less likely to do so and prefer to stick with habitual purchases.
Inevitably, as youthful Belgians adopt healthier lifestyles and switch to alternative alcoholic refreshment overall, wine volumes will fall but opportunities continue to emerge as when, what and where Belgian drinkers are choosing to drink their wine develops.
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