Surveys suggest that sustainability resonates with wine consumers.
But using that messaging to successfully market wine requires understanding how consumers see sustainability. Ask your average consumer about sustainability, and the answers will likely surprise industry insiders, said Lulie Halstead, the CEO of Wine Intelligence, a U.K.-based market research firm.
“Consumers think organic wine is better for them and better for the planet,” she said when she spoke at the Washington Winegrowers Association’s annual meeting in March. “They think they are going to have less of a hangover because there are fewer chemicals in it.”
That got a laugh and a groan. But Halstead’s point is that most consumers don’t make buying choices based on informed research.
“We’re pack animals. We like to compare ourselves on a 24-7 basis to what everyone else is doing,” she said. Generally speaking, we’re risk-averse creatures who form habits because it’s easier. “Brands work because we don’t have to think about it. Habits are habits for a reason.”
The term “organic” functions like a brand now; it’s easily recognizable from other categories. Young people in particular think organic is inherently better, not because they know about integrated pest management practices or care about pesticide regulations, but because they believe in the value of the organic brand, Halstead said.
Organic wine used to have a poor reputation, as early organic wines weren’t considered of high quality, but younger consumers today don’t remember those early wines and broadly see organic as meaning “better.”
“We’re not rational consumers. If we were, we wouldn’t pay any attention to branding and marketing,” she said.
In a survey of 2,000 U.S. consumers asked about the likelihood that they would buy a hypothetical wine with a label containing different messages, Wine Intelligence found that “sustainably produced” increased the likelihood of purchase by 8 percent and “organic” increased it by 5 percent. The most successful message was “award-winning” at a 15-percent boost, because it conveys that there’s less risk of making a mistake buying this product, Halstead said.
So how can the wine industry capitalize on the small but significant preference young consumers have for sustainable or organic farming practices? Halstead recommends simple, positive messaging that shows a product aligns with consumers’ values.
—by Kate Prengaman
—Wine of the times