Just a few years ago, QR codes were the anchovies of the wine label. A very specific product that consumers would either automatically gravitate toward, or spurn completely.
But the pandemic changed that. QR code downloads have increased 750 percent in the past 18 months for restaurants alone, link management service Bitly told CNBC. Today, a QR code is often the only way to read a menu, pay a bill, or get more information about a business on the spot. People of all ages and tech inclinations are now forced to become comfortable with QR codes—a fact that has implications for every industry.
According to a YouGov poll published June 2021, within a three-month span, 55 percent of American consumers have used a QR code at least once, and a quarter of those who had never used one pre-COVID used at least one in the past 90 days.
Many winemakers have been utilizing QR codes for years, and are finding them increasingly important to drive engagement and boost sales.
Communicating Stories and Creating Experiences
“We used QR codes all the time, even when you needed an app to read them,” says Dennis Kreps, co-owner of the Napa-based import, marketing and sales company Quintessential. “Last year, when QR codes became a part of our regular lives, we saw an opportunity to capitalize on their resurgence.”
Quintessential doesn’t use QR codes on all of its 40 brands; they are used on their largest producers, like Tropical, New Age, Geyser Peak and Georges Duboeuf.
“QR codes are a simple, cost effective and environmentally friendly way to deliver tasting notes and brand information directly to the palms of our consumers’ hands,” Kreps says. “Because you can re-direct the URL to point anywhere you’d like based on your current campaign needs, they are ideal for long-term use. We frequently shift the destination the codes point to.”
Last year, Georges Duboeuf introduced its “First Wine of the Harvest Cork Contest.” Each bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau contained a chance to win limited edition branded gifts—the QR-based contest drew 6,000 entries.
For large brands like Rhonéa, which has 400 winegrowers across more than 7,100 acres in the Cotes du Rhone, QR codes have become an important component in their marketing strategy.
“We started implementing QR codes about six years ago,” says communications director Valerie Vincent. “We use them to connect consumers to more technical information, like the percentage of varieties in each blend, vinification specifics, and food pairing ideas.” But for some of Rhonéa’s ranges, they’ve also developed tasting videos with a sommelier, which can provide more specific tasting and pairing information.
She would not share specific data on impressions, but says they monitor the rate of impressions frequently and are pleased enough with the results to continue to invest in QR codes aggressively in the future.
Sonoma County’s Siduri Wines used QR codes to release a Web Augmented Reality (AR) experience last July, providing a novel way for wine lovers to experience and learn more about the brand from a distance.
“We’ve been creating individual experiences since 2019, but this time, we found we were able to reach consumers when they were more comfortable and confident using QR codes,” says Shilah Salmon, senior VP of marketing at Siduri’s parent company, Jackson Family Wines. “We see the experience as a way to engage consumers with an interactive and entertaining storytelling experience outside of traditional settings.”
How-To’s and Costs
Big organizations often build and manage QR platforms in-house. But for smaller brands, engaging a company like Ringpin may make sense.
“It’s free to build your own QR codes on sites like qrgenerator, qrmonkey and qrtiger, but if you want advanced campaigns and integrations with analytics, you should work a company like Ringpin,” says Ringpin co-founder Jon Stern.
Whether you work with a platform builder or DIY, Stern says it’s important to have easily scannable placement on the bottle, plus a call to action, a “reason for them to scan.” “And make sure your link never goes dead,” he adds.
Costs will vary. Using Ringpin as an example, the company will build out 10 pages that integrate with Shopify and provide analytics for $99 a month.
While creating codes takes time and money, large and small brands say the results speak for themselves. Engaged customers buy things. One study from Gallup shows that engaged customers represent a 23 percent higher share in profitability, revenue, and relationship growth.
“The Domaine de l’Amauve is a 28-acre family estate in the Cotes du Rhone,” says winemaker Christian Voeux. “QR codes have helped us expand our reach considerably. Since we began using them in 2014, visitors per month to our website have increased from about 100 to 5,000. Our wines were sold in about eight countries then, and now they’re sold in 25.”
“We are still in the deployment phase, but already we are seeing incredible growth,” says Emmanuelle Rapetti, director of communication for Sinnae. “For every 100 bottles we sell, one is through the QR code. Our objective is to increase that number to five in the next 12 months. To do that, we are finalizing communication tools like videos, and a paper collar or sticker on all of our bottles.”
Siduri’s QR program has resulted “in a significant increase in average time on-site,” says Salmon. “On average, the typical consumer will spend 1 minute and 40-50 seconds on the site. But when they are directed to the site from the AR experience, their time increases to between 3 and 5 minutes.”
Kathleen Willcox writes about wine, food and culture from her home in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. She is keenly interested in sustainability issues, and the business of making ethical drinks and food. Her work appears regularly in Wine Searcher, Wine Enthusiast, Liquor.com and many other publications. Kathleen also co-authored a book called Hudson Valley Wine: A History of Taste & Terroir, which was published in 2017. Follow her wine explorations on Instagram at @kathleenwillcox