Subscriber login Close [x]
remember me
You are not logged in.

Greater alignment needed to communicate sustainability in wine

Published:  15 February, 2021

The global wine industry is in danger of confusing consumers with a proliferation of differing messages over sustainability, with greater alignment necessary for clear communication of the progress being made.

This was a key point raised by a panel of industry leaders at the recent New Zealand Sustainability: Challenging the Myths Around Food Miles webinar, co-hosted by Harpers and New Zealand Winegrowers.

While acknowledging the “amazing” progress made by many in the industry, the panel identified the “extremely fragmented” nature of the trade and its many differing sustainability programmes as a major hurdle to overcome.

“There is a confusion in terms of what sustainability is, for and by the customer. There isn't a unified definition of what a system [for measuring sustainability] is, it is very different in different parts of the world,” highlighted George Soleas, president of LCBO in Ontario.

“There are leaders in sustainability, such as New Zealand, but if we want to influence consumers and encourage a culture of sustainability, then we have to do it right,” he added.

Troy Christensen, CEO of Enotria & Coe went further, suggesting that the problem of a highly fragmented industry, operating myriad competing schemes aimed at progressing sustainability, could become counter-productive, to the detriment of the trade.

“One of the challenges that we have in the industry is that [sustainability] means a whole bunch of different things to different people. And so, the consumer is getting a bit confused and different people in different countries are on different programmes that could be very relevant locally, but maybe not as much internationally,” he said.

These “inconsistencies”, in turn, could “actually do more damage to ourselves than good and that's where the industry needs to do more in trying to create some consistency and positive messaging with each other”.

New Zealand’s industry-wide Sustainable Wine Growing in New Zealand (SWINZ) programme, under which 96% of vineyards are now operating, was contrasted by Christensen with differing schemes such as Lodi Rules and Napa Green in California, with the former having the benefit of delivering one, coherent message for an entire country, rather than competing regions.

Even SWINZ, though, flagged up on the labels of Kiwi bottles, needed to work hard on communication to push over the concept to consumers with so many strands to sustainability, admitted Ed Massey, general manager, sustainability, New Zealand Wine Growers.

As Massey said, unlike the more easily defined, regulated and thus recognised concepts of organic and even biodynamic wine, “sustainability is a journey… and it's really that balance across the broad spectrum of goals that you need to consider”, making simplified communication more of a challenge.

Anne Jones, category manager, wine beer & spirits at UK supermarket Waitrose, argued that it was up to all in the industry to take the long view, with the benefits of sustainable production coming into ever sharper focus down the line.

“Price, taste, ‘will I like it?’, variety, all those factors, with consumer choice, unfortunately still trump sustainability. It's a ‘nice to have’ and we need to make it a ‘must have’,” she said.

“We are at the forefront of something great here, but it's going to be a long journey, and there aren't quick fixes – this is something that we all collectively as an industry have to put our shoulder against and push and try and do the best we can to move it forward as effectively as we can.”

Soleas suggested a set of industry-wide, global KPIs to help consumers understand the central tenets that typically underpin all sustainability programmes, and thus bring greater coherence and ease of communication for retailers and suppliers.


All agreed that sustainability would, however, continue to move up the consumer agenda in terms of influencing purchasing decisions. And that wine – witness the explosive growth of interest in ‘natural’ wines – as an emotive and environmentally sensitive product, should be well-placed to capitalise on such credentials.

“Sustainability, overall, is the right thing to do for our industry, for people, for the planet and for profit, and I think when you look at those things you know that's the answer to the ‘why?’ question,” said Massey.

“What we are grappling with now is the ‘how?’ question – how to communicate all this,” he added.

A full version of this far-reaching webinar discussion will be hosted on soon, with edited highlights also appearing in the March edition of Harpers Wine & Spirit