For wine industry sleuths, observing and analyzing wine lifestyle behavior in America was once an easier exercise. Twenty years ago, baby boomers consistently defaulted to aspirational environments, seeking white tablecloth restaurants and classified-growth Bordeaux pours as the height of wine enjoyment.
But today, the ever-growing millennial consumer is literally turning the tables on past trends, and are more likely to pop a bottle of good-quality but well-priced New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc at a ramen joint than aspire to loftier and more formal scenarios, eluding choices that would have seemed obvious decades before.
Decoding the new normal is the task of industry trends data organization Wine Market Council and The Nielsen Co., who convened in Miami Beach on January 31, 2017, to present this year’s study in conjunction with Wine Enthusiast’s 17th annual Wine Star Awards, where more than 500 industry luminaries gathered for the annual black-tie gala.
Speaking to an engaged and curious crowd of wine producers, importers and distributors, speakers John Gillespie (President, Wine Market Council) and Danny Brager (Vice President of Client Service, The Nielsen Co.) tapped two all-star panels of executives from leading wineries and wine-trade companies to shed light and context on data they had collected on behaviors and buying trends in the wine space in 2016.
What’s happening in and beyond the glass? Here are nine trends that the market research and panelists uncovered.
Dining out more and spending more
High frequency wine drinkers are apparently feeling better about their finances than the population in general, because a net 20 percent of them are dining out more often. The survey also showed that 24 percent are spending more on wine when they do.
The discovery continues
The fastest growing wine categories are not traditional picks like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Climbing the charts are Prosecco (a darling for several years in the running); red blends from California; New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and also still going strong, French rosé, reported Nielsen.
Wine spending is up, and spirit sales are starting to soar
Consumers spent 4.4 percent more on wine at stores in 2016 and 4.7 percent more on spirits, but are cutting back on beer purchases, said Brager. However, research suggests that spirits and beer lovers are not backing off from wine. For instance, 57 percent of craft beer drinkers said they are drinking the same amount of wine as a year earlier, and 20 percent said they were uncorking even more wine than before
Popular brands held their prices
While consumers are trading up to higher-priced wines, they have dug in their heels on price hikes for their favorite brands, and wine marketers have noticed. Few individual wine brands have significantly increased their prices in recent years, recognizing, said Nabedian, that it’s easier for a winery to introduce a new product at a higher price than to tinker with familiar brands.
By-the-glass is number one
The number one factor prompting a diner to order wine is when the wine is available by the glass, the survey showed. Number two was if the wine goes with the food the diner ordered. The bad news, at least for wine writers and restaurant owners, was that the two least important factors out of nine in the survey were high scores from a critic and special restaurant promotions.
Italian food stimulates wine appetites
When it comes to restaurants, wine purchases decreased slightly in the past year. But wine drinkers connected wine and food most frequently at Italian eateries. The Wine Market Council survey showed 64% of high frequency wine drinkers are very likely to order wine with Italian cooking, and 56% said the same of steakhouses. Japanese or sushi restaurants came out lowest.
Screwcaps aren’t scary
Several panel members agreed that twist-off closures are not putting people off their wine. Master Sommelier Jason Smith of MGM Resorts International said his team of 50 sommeliers is happy to twist them off and pour. Others participants chimed in that when it comes to by-the-glass serving or banquets, screwcaps are perfect.
Flavor favorites are yin and yang in nature
Consumers today are increasingly seeking polarizing taste profiles. According to panelist and E & J Gallo’s Senior Vice President and General Manager Roger Nabedian, top picks are fresh and refreshing whites, reds and bubbly (which are more food-friendly) or plush, full-bodied reds (hence red blend upticks), with less styles in-between.
Cans are a thing, but will they last?
People are buying wine in cans at a much faster rate than a year ago, seemingly for different occasions than they buy wine in bottles. Cans are welcome at sporting events, beaches and parks where bottles are not allowed, but not every wine tastes good coming out of aluminum, said Curtis Mann, retail wine director of West Coast supermarket chain Raley’s. Wine trade members aren’t sure if they’re here to stay, either.