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Covid reorients wine buying cues

Published:  04 November, 2020

Bringing with it radical and enforced changes in lifestyle, the pandemic has also brought along an adjustment in the purchasing cues consumers use when deciding which wines to buy, according to new research. 

While UK drinkers have largely remained consistent in their wine buying, albeit in some cases buying ‘more and better’ than pre-Covid, data from Wine Intelligence’s latest UK Vinitrac consumer survey shows that four major choice cues (the factors consumers take into account when choosing wine) are less important now than they were in 2019. 

Measuring cues beyond price and focusing on what else is influencing wine buyers, the research shows a marked drop in the importance of taste or wine style descriptions displayed on shelves or wine labels during the pandemic (see graph below). 

This is closely followed by similar declines in importance of alcohol content, with consumers showing less concern about this when shopping for wine, while paying less attention to bottle and/ or label design appeal, in addition to showing a reduced interest in whether wine matches or complements food.

Lulie Halstead, CEO of Wine Intelligence, puts the decline in importance of taste or wine style descriptions predominantly down to time. She highlights how in-store shopping has become a more time-sensitive activity, with wine drinkers spending less time browsing shelves or handling bottles and reading labels. 

“We think this is influencing a decline in the proportion of UK wine drinkers who are influenced by descriptors compared with a year ago, dropping from the second most important choice cue for wine to the third. To read a back label, you have to have time, the inclination, and no qualms that you might be blocking the aisle for someone else,” she said. 

The reduced interest in appeal of the bottle and/or label design reflected how people turn to the “safe and familiar” during times of crisis, she added. 

“Consumers are being much more ‘safe’ with their wine choices – choosing their wine based on what they know rather than branching out and trying something new. As a consequence, familiar and known labels are gaining both attention and market share, while the finer points of label design have become less of a concern.” 

Meanwhile, the switch to consuming wine more frequently without food has led to UK drinkers being “significantly less influenced” by wine and food matching than they were a year ago, according to Halstead, while the drive of the decline in importance of abc was “less clear cut”. 

“One hypothesis is that since consumers are drinking proportionally more at home they are likely to be less concerned about alcohol content as there is less need to take into consideration travel and especially driving. 

“It may also be that the long-run growth in the importance of alcohol levels as a purchase decision cue, mainly arising from people who wanted to cut down on alcohol for long-term health and wellbeing reasons, has been put on the back burner by a consumer population which has more pressing short-term health and wellbeing matters to worry about,” she said. 

Although not measured as part of the survey, Halstead said from a price point of view, the evidence was suggesting that consumers are looking for enhanced value in wine. But that, she added, this did not necessarily mean “just a lower price, value means quality, a suitable price and, increasingly at the moment, trust and reassurance”, she said. 

Whether or not these are long-term changes was difficult to gauge at this point, said Halstead. 

“However even such short-run shifts may need to be taken into account as we work out how to label, promote and communicate wine most effectively to connect with our consumers in the next 12 months,” she warned.