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Understanding the wine consumer in 2023.

In the last 10 days I attended the Wine Future Conference in Coimbra and wine2wine in Verona.

At both events there were several sessions dedicated to the situation and trends in wine consumption behavior around the world.

The thing that surprised me was not the data presented, often already known and all confirming trends that have already been underway for several years, but the reading that was made by the operators following patterns and preconceptions unrelated to the data brought by the researchers and sometimes even in contradiction with those.

A dangerous cognitive dissonance to successfully address some of the problems that are affecting wine consumption worldwide.

I therefore hope it will be useful to report below some considerations that are evident to me for wine consumers today.

Young consumers aren’t so young anymore.

One of the most recurring themes in discussions on wine consumption is the need to recover/involve Generation Z, which shows little interest in wine.

One of the answers given to this problem is that it is a recurring theme and it will be enough to wait for Gen Z to grow older for their interest/consumption of wine to increase, as has already happened for Millennials.

In reality, the data shows that this has not happened for Millennials, or at least not to the extent hoped for.

The State of the US Wine Industry Report 2023 published by Silicon Valley Bank identifies 60 as the age beyond which wine is the preferred alcoholic beverage based on various research.

Wine Intelligence analyses on other markets and Istat analyses on the Italian market essentially confirm this situation.

Important: the drop in consumption observed now arises from trends that began many years ago and were not addressed because they were masked by other trends of the opposite sign. In other words, (in the USA) we were able to pretend not to notice the Millennials’ lower interest/consumption of wine thanks to the increase by Baby Boomers, which kept the overall figure positive.

Focusing only on the youngest to recover consumption will therefore not be sufficient.

The question is rather how to engage consumers across such a broad age spectrum. The second consideration can help us.

Wine consumers are not monolithic.

Currently we hear that the “consumer” seeks ease, fun, relationships, exploration, in the same way that years ago it was said that he wanted complexity, tasting, commitment, etc… So if before we communicated (all) in one way, now We (all) need to change that.

The reality is that wine consumers are not a monolithic and uniform entity, but are heterogeneous and different in terms of what they seek and do not seek when consuming wine.

Not only that, but wine consumption is also characterized by the fact that consumers themselves look for different things, and therefore wines, in different situations and moments of consumption.

It is therefore wrong to all focus on a single message pleasure+fun+simplicity today, just as it was yesterday to do so on the triptych territory+vine variety+tradition.

Observing the penetration of alcoholic beverages among American consumers divided by age groups in the figure below, we can see how the percentage of “regular consumers” is substantially similar for the different segments. What changes significantly up to the age of 50 is the percentage of consumers of other alcoholic beverages but not wine.

The former will be interested in technical messages, based on the intrinsic characteristics of the wines, regardless of their age.

Others will be more interested in other values which can range from sustainability, social responsibility, lifestyle, innovation, etc…

Each wine, winery, denomination will have to find the correct messages for the different targets and consistent with its own identity.

To communicate differently, the substance must be changed, not just the form.

In various sessions of the Wine Future Conference and wine2wine the subject was how to change communication to address young consumers (but at this point we understood that communication must also be changed towards middle-aged consumers).

These discussions are focused on digital media, social media first and foremost. Now, thinking of communicating to Gen Z using television as the main channel is obviously illusory considering the low use of this media in this age group.

However, the feeling is that most of the time the emphasis is more on the form and method of transmitting the message than on the content. In other words, we are looking for new ways to make the usual contents of tradition, culture, terroir, etc. “drinkable” to new potential consumers.

Instead, these contents are precisely the reasons for the lack of interest in wine on the part of ever-larger segments of consumers. And therefore it is precisely the contents that need to be changed.

Reduction in alcohol consumption and increase in consumption of liqueurs and spirits.

Many wine operators are surprised that in the face of the growing concerns expressed by consumers regarding alcohol consumption and related moderation/reduction behaviors, we are simultaneously witnessing a growth in the consumption of spirits.

The contradiction is only apparent for at least two reasons:

1. The quantity of alcohol per serving is about the same for beer, wine and spirits because as the alcohol content increases, the quantity served decreases.

2. Spirits are largely consumed as cocktails and long drinks, then mixed with non-alcoholic liquids. Therefore in a format in which the absolute quantity served aligns to that of a glass of wine. (Note: the top three categories of spirits by volume in the US are Vodka, Pre-mixed cocktails and Tequila).

I add a further consideration: among all the categories of alcoholic beverages available on the market, red wine is essentially the only one that is not drunk fresh.

Consumers should NOT be educated.

The need to “educate” consumers is still repeated very often, with a scholastic, almost punitive, meaning of the term. Make consumers curious, pamper them, challenge them, excite them, listen to them, surprise them, indulge them, entertain them, make them think, but please don’t try to educate them.

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