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Trends to watch for 2021

Published:  18 January, 2021

After a tumultuous and challenging 2020 and more to come in 2021, Harpers wrapped up last year by partnering with Bordeaux Wines for a webinar examining Current Consumer Trends in the UK. 

Hosted by Andrew Catchpole, the panel considered how consumer trends had fast evolved, before attempting to answering the key question – how will such change likely play out in the longer term?

Lulie Halstead, co-founder and CEO, Wine Intelligence 

Halstead considered How the Pandemic has Impacted on Consumer Behaviours – with a focus on how the issue has affected consumer purchasing habits, identifying what might stick for 2021 and beyond. 

Gen Z boosts wine-drinking occasions

Noting the significant shift from on-trade to home consumption, Halstead presented Wine Intelligence research revealing that the overall number of drinking occasions had continued to rise throughout 2020. 

“There has been this percentage increase in wine consumption frequency. Now this isn’t volume, this is number of occasions… overall wine has remained and grown within the UK wine drinkers’ repertoire,” said Halstead. 

Combining on and off-trade, total consumption of wine by volume for the UK in 2020 was estimated to be down 4%. 

Significant changes, though, in who is drinking what and when stood out, with non-food at-home drinking occasions notably having risen. 

Much of the occasion increase was down to “mid-involved consumers who proportionately have increased their consumption”, with women “considerably increasing their consumption” compared with men.

Halstead next turned to consumption across the age bands, reminding the audience that a high and growing proportion of wine drinkers are now 65 and over, while Millennials have played a lesser role in pushing up the number of drinking occasions.

Perhaps the biggest positive revelation was that Gen Zers – the youngest drinking cohort – are more readily embracing wine than they were in the pre-pandemic world. 

“One of the reasons is that there’s been a change in socialising. Among Gen Z, typically alcohol consumption was done often in the on-premise environment. And because there’s been less opportunity to do that, they’ve been socialising more in at-home environments, so that means wine then becomes part of the at-home consumption and there’s less spirits and cocktails and mixed drinks,” said Halstead.

The ease of opening a bottle of wine, some of which could also be saved for a later occasion, was driving this among women more generally and the Gen Z age group, with the “from aperitif through into meal occasion” enhancing wines’ appeal over spirits. 

With various forms of restrictions almost certain to play out well into 2021 (despite the vaccine rollouts), these are trends, predicted Halstead, that are likely to remain in place. As is increased online purchasing, with consumers having “formed a new habit in terms of ways of purchasing”.

Focusing on and continuing to build ecommerce platforms and associated digital communications, with emphasis on reaching those cohorts driving the new drinking occasions, will be key for the foreseeable future, she concluded. 

Beth Pearce MW, buyer, Majestic 

Having experienced life in the thick of pandemic-era retail, Pearce looked at Meeting Consumer Needs in a Turbulent Retail Landscape, focusing on adapting to changing customer behaviour.

Online interaction shapes retail

Reinforcing the Wine Intelligence data and insights, Pearce highlighted an accelerated shift from in-store to online purchasing that the likes of Majestic, Naked Wines and The Wine Society initially struggled to keep up with during the first lockdown.

Pearce also focused on the upturn in consumer at-home and non-on-trade drinking occasions, with the dramatic online uplift this has driven. Key to capitalising on this was the need to keep consumers engaged, without the usual gamut of in-store advice, tastings and the related benefits of bricks-and-mortar footfall. 

“Customers diverted to safer delivery services from retailers that have strong online operations, rather than going out and browsing in supermarket aisles – that was key and many online businesses did very well, but often being very, very stretched,” said Pearce. 

More than 150,000 new customers flocked to Majestic during 2020, which fast moved to allow individual store managers the autonomy to run their own delivery service  – using each shop as a depot and delivery hub.

Stronger brands and recognisable New World labels fared best, however, as customers sought known quantities, although those same shoppers also more readily swapped to alternatives given a recommendation. 

“Our biggest strengths are our staff and our range – our staff are really passionate about the products we sell, and they were passionate about customer service,” said Pearce. 

“We had to really change those traditional avenues of face-to-face customer service and recommendations.” 

In this new landscape, when “things calmed down” a little, store managers were encouraged to keep in regular contact with customers, “keeping them topped up, recommending new wines, hoping to recreate some of that buzz” that you find in-store.

Looking ahead to a landscape where “online will probably continue to prevail”, the upshot is a renewed focus on the power of staff training, along with the creation “of richer marketing” content, to enhance remote interaction with customers.

Richard Bampfield MW, consultant 

Having worked closely with Bordeaux Wines over the past few years and chaired the Hot 50 Selection – Wine in 2020, Bampfield revealed how Bordeaux is evolving to match the modern consumer. 

Changing landscape

The answer came in the shape of a focus on how Bordeaux is meeting consumer demand for approachable, modern, sustainable wines. He highlighted how young winemakers in Bordeaux are embracing sustainability, along with new varieties and hot methods such as amphorae. 

Innovation, said Bampfield, was driving a new face of Bordeaux, with whites, including dry blends and the likes of Pinot Gris, delivering much momentum in the £6-£10 market, “with all price points and styles covered, from Bordeaux at £6 through 

Loupiac and St Croix du Mont up to Sauternes and Barsac”. 

Rosé and sparkling wines are also increasingly making their mark, he added, with the former offering a differing and food-friendly style, while younger and smaller producers are increasingly producing quality crémant as sales grow.

On the red front, Bampfield again highlighted modern techniques, aimed at “achieving a better balance of ripeness, freshness and, where applicable, oaking” than of old, with the resultant wines offering “much more competitiveness and at accessible price points” when set against competing regions and styles. 

“Ambitious” sustainability targets have also played their part, feeding into stylistic change and bringing greater individuality to the wines, helping to dispel “a homogenous” image, and creating real points of difference for buyers and their portfolios. 

New grape varieties being trialled also showed how Bordeaux, far from resting on its laurels, is looking to the future, with “the best yet to come”.