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Leading Thinkers Seminar

Published:  23 July, 2008

Many UK consumers are very open-minded about trying new wines, but getting them to choose yours over someone else's is a more difficult matter. And even when they do choose your brand, it will become just one of a dozen or so regular' wines that are purchased, often on special offer.

Hard truths, perhaps, but today's consumers are a tough, sceptical bunch, as participants in the inaugural Wine Intelligence Leading Thinkers Seminar learnt at the Great Eastern Hotel on Thursday 24 November, when they explored and debated new research into UK wine consumer behaviour.

There was as much good news as bad from the new data, which were drawn from a survey of 1,000 consumers conducted in October using the Consumer Access online survey. UK consumers are certainly more adventurous in wine than ever before, driven largely by increasing confidence in exploring extensive supermarket ranges. More than a third of consumers said they would be quite likely or very likely to try wines from new or unusual countries; some 40% said they would be likely to try a new grape variety.

However, the circumstances under which they would try something new were relatively limited. Nearly two thirds of respondents needed some kind of personal touch: 35% said the factor most likely to get them to try something new was tasting the wine in store, while a further 29% cited recommendation by a friend or relative as being the key driver. In a series of videotaped interviews that were broadcast to seminar participants, consumers filled out the context. There are lots of good wines out there, many of which they know, but the barrier is still the variability of taste that can come from brands' such as countries, regions, varietals or actual wine brand names.

Of course, not all consumers are the same, and the seminar also explored the major differences between consumer segments. After analysing the data, the biggest differentiating factor between consumers appears to be involvement' with wine. Highly involved consumers are those who take the trouble to understand more about wine, who feel an attachment to it and who enjoy the stories and the diversity associated with the category. Low-involved consumers are the ones who see wine as just another drink and are limited in both the portfolio they buy and their desire to know more.

The difference in their behaviour and attitude is stark. For example, mainstream at-homers', a high-involved segment and, at 42% of the monthly wine-drinking population, the largest and most valuable segment of UK consumers, will spend an average of 380 each per year on wine. On the other hand, frugal conservatives', the lowest-involved segment, will only spend an average of 68 per year.

The crucial factor in understanding the wine category is that a high-involved and a low-involved consumer can look exactly alike if your only differentiating tools are standard demographic indicators like age, gender and socio-economic group. While it is true to say that high-income males in their 40s are more likely to spend more money on wine and have a larger portfolio than, say, low-income females in their 70s, there can be large differences in behaviour within these demographic segments that can only be explained by fundamentally different attitudes to wine.

The higher involved a consumer is, the more likely they are to be tempted to spend more money, or try a new wine, or use disposable income to further their wine habit - either by buying a new wine rack, or taking a course, or trying something farther down the wine list in a restaurant. Conversely, low-involved consumers are not so pliable: they know exactly what they want and tend to be the ones who seek out the lowest prices and/or biggest promotions.

The bottom line from the seminar, then, seems to be that the best hope for the long-term health of the wine industry lies in getting UK consumers excited by wine. Activities such as the recent Wine Show London at the Business Design Centre in Islington would fit the bill; so, too, would a further increase

in in-store tastings, despite the expense and limited reach that these offer. On the other hand, further erosion of category value through deep-discount promotions and limited ranges would further fuel the low-involved-consumer mindset.