Wine Market Council seeks answers to perception and consumption challenges
By Jeff Siegel
In 2024, the Wine Market Council, acknowledging the pressures currently facing the wine industry, will make a concerted push to help its members — and the industry as a whole — figure out how to boost wine’s popularity among younger consumers, as well as those who aren’t white.
“Our members see a dual need, so that’s why we have these two projects,” says Liz Thach, PhD, MW, the council’s new president and the first woman to run what is, perhaps, the most important wine marketing organization in the country. “It’s a larger research project than we usually do, but our members see the need.”
Thach takes control
Thach is the council’s fourth president, succeeding Dale Stratton. “Dale is much beloved and respected,” she says of her predecessor. “He set a standard for research, and he is very supportive of what we’re trying to do.”
Thach is one of the leading wine marketing researchers in the country, as well as the first woman in California (and the seventh woman in the United States) to become a Master of Wine. From 2000 to 2023, she was distinguished professor of wine and professor of management at Sonoma State University, where she taught classes in the bachelors and MBA programs.
As such, she knows full well the challenges facing the wine industry. “After 23 years of growth, we’re seeing both value and rate declines. This is why the wine industry needs good market and consumer research — to understand the forces that are shaping what’s happening and the decisions that are being made.”
That’s why the first council research effort will focus on lower consumption among younger consumers, as well as Hispanic, Asian American and African American consumers. Thach says that, while many studies look at current wine drinkers, this one will examine why these social and cultural demographics don’t drink wine as often as their elders or Anglo consumers. The difference is vitally important. Most studies, including Gallup’s annual survey of U.S. alcohol consumption, show significant wine consumption declines, both in purchases and occasions, among the several generations younger than the median Gen Xers.
“That’s our Number 1 priority,” says Thach. “We want to focus on how to attract younger and multicultural consumers.”
Focusing the research
The council’s research subcommittee, says Thach, spent much time considering which ages to focus on for the first part of the study. Originally, it was going to look at 21 to 30, but after more discussion, expanded the age range to 21 to 39 to make it more encompassing.
The gap in wine drinking among those who aren’t Anglo has long been one of wine’s most intriguing issues, and this attempt to figure out what’s going on acknowledges that, says Thach. In this, it won’t look at the youngest age, but instead focus on all ages for the three non-white groups. This part of the survey will follow up on a surprising finding in WMC’s 2023 study of high-end consumers. In that study, Hispanics seemed to be more frequent high-end wine buyers than expected, though this has been the case with other consumer goods, including high-end spirits, for a while, she says.
The second survey, looking at wine clubs and direct-to-consumer sales, was also requested by the council’s members; it’s a subject that the council returns to every five to 10 years, so it’s doubly appropriate now. The idea here is that wine club members and those who buy DtC are wine’s most loyal customers, so keeping them engaged is a key to wine’s success.
As part of this, says Thach, there needs to be a way to reach consumers who get wine information and recommendations from friends and family, and who don’t necessarily see wine as something to drink with dinner.
“We need to find out , what are the best practices to attract, delight, and retain?” says Thach. “We have to find ways to encourage the next generation to get into wine, to be enthralled by wine as a category.”
Hence, two research studies of large scale — and crucial importance — over the next year, as wine’s premier marketing consultancy tries to help the industry come to grips with two of its most pressing challenges.
Jeff Siegel is an award-winning wine writer, as well as the co-founder and former president of Drink Local Wine, the first locavore wine movement. He has taught wine, beer, spirits, and beverage management at El Centro College and the Cordon Bleu in Dallas. He has written seven books, including “The Wine Curmudgeon’s Guide to Cheap Wine.”