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Wine Market Council Punches Up: IDs Challenges, Focuses on Opportunities

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Now is the time for bold action and new ideas.

By Alexandra Russell

Liz Thach, Wine Market Council

Wine Market Council gathered members yesterday for its first in-person Research Conference in five years. President Liz Thach welcomed the crowd warmly before jumping right into the data. Wine shipments are down — but so is the entire alcohol category, she pointed out — which means now is the time for bold action and new ideas. 

Drilling down on data

Data-based wine consultant Danny Brager overviewed the industry as a whole before turning his attention to the bright spots. Facts: consumer demand is down for a variety of reasons, including generational and ethnic challenges, a push toward social moderation and increased competition within the adult intoxicant category. Also facts: One-third of the top 100 wine brands are experiencing growth; there are more wine-selling retail locations nationally than there are for beer or spirits; sales of table wine ($11 – $25) remain relatively stable; sparkling wine (especially Prosecco) is growing; consumers are seeking “flavors” that wine can provide (such as sweet, spicy and fruity); and younger generations are seeking products that align with their worldview.

The challenge is to make a connection, Brager said, suggesting support for social issues, alternate packaging and lifestyle collaborations as ways to nest in consumers’ consciousness. 

Danny Brager

Thach gave a brief, data-heavy presentation on WMC’s research methodology and study results, which found only one-third of U.S. adults of legal drinking age (LDA) consume wine; of that number, less than one-third drink wine weekly or biweekly. Wine consumption also skews toward white and older consumers. Looking at favored varieties for millennials and baby boomers, only Pinot Grigio landed on both lists. “A possible gateway?” she asked the audience. Other takeaways: 47% use wine for relaxation and younger drinkers tend to view wine as an “elevated” experience.

Christian Miller, director of research for WMC, drilled down on long-term trends, using data going back to the beginning of the council’s surveys. He diced up demographics into generational, age, male/female and ethnicity to compare and contrast growth and changes over the decades. Some of these numbers underscored the tough times wine finds itself in. Many high-end consumers are trading down in price, he reported, though not in frequency. On the upside, he continued, wine enjoys a loyal core of consumers, it’s viewed by most as a product tied to nature and agriculture, and the enjoyment of wine is linked to feelings of relaxation, romance, sophistication and memory.

Opportunities for new connections

An informative and forward-looking panel discussion, led by moderator Mike Lakusta (CEO of EthniFacts), focused not on the downturn but rather on the opportunities the future holds. Looking at the barriers wine faces when courting younger and more diverse drinkers, the speakers each tackled a piece of the puzzle, sharing personal stories that addressed topics such as multiculturalism, gateway wines and health-focused consumers.

Key takeaways included the need to meet consumers where they are — both physically and at their comfort level. Talk to them using terms and languages they understand. Bring them into the fold with inclusivity in both hiring and representation (hire consultants, if necessary). Create your own brand-loyal culture that they can buy into by tying your brand to their priorities (holidays, traditions, foods, celebrations). Be authentic to your audience and give them information they can use to make their own decisions (including transparency in labeling and ingredients). Make wine fun again by encouraging wine-based cocktails, making wine club shipments exciting and bringing wine into casual spaces and moments. 

Chris Riboli (Stella Rosa) cited his winery’s downtown Los Angeles location as its bridge to a multicultural audience. His advice when seeking brand loyalty was to “entice [with quality product and interaction], embrace [through nurturing the customer relationship] and educate [both yourself and your consumers].” This three-pronged approach was echoed by Angela McCrae (founder of Uncorked & Cultured), who is quickly establishing herself as an important voice for African Americans in the wine industry. “Education, advocacy and community,” she said, adding that inclusivity goes both ways. “Involve yourselves in organizations and movements that cater to groups you want to reach.” 

Dalia Ceja spoke of authenticity when telling her family’s journey from migrant vineyard work to winery owners. “Be true to your story,” she said, giving an example of pairing Ceja wines with Mexican recipes to such success the family is now working on a cookbook to meet wine club demand. 

“Engage consumers by giving them what they want,” said Heidi Scheid (Sunny with a Chance of Flowers). For her brands, that means ingredient labeling and health-related information (zero sugar, gluten-free, vegan-friendly). The company website also includes cocktail recipes and details on its certified sustainable grapes.

By reimagining wine’s role in social settings — from small personal get-togethers to large, festival-size gatherings — the industry has an opportunity to not only meet new consumers, but to build the next generation(s) of committed consumers.

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Alexandra Russell, Wine Industry Advisor
Alexandra Russell, Wine Industry Advisor

Alexandra Russell

Alexandra Russell is Managing Editor at Wine Industry Advisor. She can be reached at arussell@wineindustryadvisor.com.

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