Consumers rightly concerned about lower alcohol wines
Wednesday 14 September
New research suggests the wine industry needs to address concerns about the quality and taste of lower alcohol wines if it is to attract more consumers to the category.
According to the study, commissioned by the UK’s Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), consumers are reticent about buying low alcohol wines, and I can’t say I blame them. The majority of low alcohol wines, German Rieslings excluded, are lacklustre. The consumer wine media has bagged most of them so it’s not surprising drinkers aren’t keen to try them.
The key findings were: 55% of red wine drinkers (51% of white wine drinkers) said they had concerns about the taste of lower alcohol wines while 41% of red wine drinkers (36% of white wine drinkers) had concerns about the product quality of lower alcohol wines
Jeremy Beadles, WSTA chief executive, says “While there’s plenty of evidence to suggest consumers are interested in lower alcohol drinks these findings suggest there’s work to do to convince drinkers about the taste and quality of products coming onto the market.”
I have not yet found one exciting wine that has been through an alcohol reduction process such as spinning cone or reverse osmosis and, winemakers need to address this problem. I suggest you either drink one glass fewer or drink Moscato d’Asti, German Riesling, Hunter Valley Semillon or Vinho Verde if you want to reduce your alcohol consumption.
Unfortunately, these wines are deeply unfashionable, and not particularly easy to understand for the average wine drinker. Residual sugar (Asti, German Riesling) or searing acid (Hunter Valley) makes most gluggers turn their nose up at them. But until the standard of the ‘low alcohol’ products coming on to the market improves, that’s the best low alcohol solution.
The findings emerge from the YouGov Omnibus Panel (August 2011) and are based on a sample of 1,693 British adult drinkers.
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I’ve been researching lower alcohol wines lately and it just so happens, Wine Intelligence has too.
The UK wine trade is really trying to look responsible at the moment and a raft of new ‘lower alcohol’ wines were launched at the recent London International Wine Fair.
But it’s not clear whether the consumer actually wants lower alcohol wines. So, we might have some more white elephant wines gathering dust on the shelves. Alternatively, if the products are available, it may create demand. Let’s face it, before iphones were launched, we didn’t have a burning need for them either.
Happily for those wineries launching a lower alcohol wine this month, it seems that consumer acceptance of wines under 11% is on the rise, according to Wine Intelligence research in partnership with the WSTA.
The percentage of consumers who say they ‘may buy’ wine below 9% (on a scale of 1 to 5,‘may buy’ was 3) has increased from 47% to 54% since the survey was last conducted in April 2007. No massive change there then,
Younger drinkers also increased their acceptance of lower alcohol wines with 66% claiming they may buy wine below 9%, compared with just 51% in 2007.
‘May buy’ and ‘Would definitely buy’ are quite different, however.
Surprise, surprise, wines between 11 and 14% abv remain the preferred wines with regular UK wine drinkers. Well, strike me down. I’m worried that we are blowing this low alcohol thing out of proportion.
I’ll very happily drink a 9% Mosel wine or 5.5% Moscato d’Asti (particularly Vigna Vecchia’s Ca’ da Gal Moscato at Terroir in London) any day of the week but I’m struggling to find a decent wine that has had its alcohol level reduced by human intervention ( i.e. reverse osmosis/spinning cone). Thus far, the early harvest attempts aren’t much better either. There’s a reason why people don’t pick early and we should remember that.
Retailers accused of paying ‘lip service’ to the green issue
Sunday 25 October
I’ve just attended a debate, which asked whether the promotion of environment credentials is a marketing ploy. The room was half-full at best, which is a sad indication of the importance of the green issue in the UK wine industry. Or perhaps everyone had gone on half-term a day early? Compared to the full-house at the recent low alcohol forum, it was a poor showing – I didn’t spot one major retailer.
It appears many wine producers are going green for the right reasons but retailers were accused of using the green message to suit their own agendas – making a profit. Unfortunately the supermarkets weren’t there to defend themselves, but there were some damning comments.
Michael Cox, UK director for Wines of Chile, which is one of the main producing countries leading the sustainability drive along with South Africa and New Zealand, said, “Most multiple retailers will pay lip service to green initiatives.”
The main problem is consumers see wine as a natural product and that means the word sustainable or organic on a wine label has less meaning than organic on a bunch of carrots. It goes some way to explaining why sales of organic wine have not kept pace with the rest of the organic industry. Cox added, “Having a social conscience does not appear to sell more bottles. The consumer is not prepared to pay a premium for organic wine because they don’t understand the concept. ”
Retailers are clearly doing things to help the environment such as the plastic bag reuse scheme but a cynic would argue it is only because the authorities have ruled they must reduce their plastic bag use. Angela Mount implied retailers didn’t give a damn about saving the environment – it is all about saving money. If the changes didn’t save money, then they wouldn’t do them. She argued bulk shipping and lightweight bottles improved margins for retailers, adding “I don’t believe the green issue is driven by the consumer. It is often a convenient ploy to reduce costs.”
Peter Darbyshire, MD of UK importer and distributor PLB agreed, “The green solution is to move the point of packaging as close to the point of sale. It is moving to the UK but sadly driven by retailers’ price motivation rather than the green agenda.”
With increasing consumer demand for lower alcohol wines, the UK wine trade got together to debate the key issues involved. Unfortunately, consumer opinion of lower alcohol wines is pretty poor at the moment with Dan Jago, head wine honcho at Tesco, even saying they had ‘leper status’ (see my you tube wine channel for his speech.)
Clearly there is work to do. Currently consumers have a low quality expectation of lower alcohol wines and don’t have any real knowledge where they can be found on the shelves. More encouragingly, 42% of regular wine drinkers said they would be prepared to buy low alcohol wines if the wines on offer were of equal quality to wines at ‘normal’ alcohol levels, according to new research by major importer PLB.
Unfortunately the term ‘lower alcohol’ and ‘reduced alcohol’ wines are not defined so they’re not technically legal, so you could say lower alcohol wines is a category that doesn’t exist in the eyes of the law. This is an issue the wine industry admits it needs to work on – we need a term to be able to explain to the consumer what we are actually talking about. And in terms of lower alcohol, there’s no definition of what a lower alcohol wine is – is it a 9% German Kabinett of a 12% Australian Chardonnay? Jago added, ‘We need to clarify what we are allowed to say and clarify the language of lower alcohol.’
In terms of technical know-how, there are plenty of technologies you can use – from reverse osmosis to spinning cone (my you tube channel has an interview with Tony Dann on spinning cone technology). However, Jago added they were ‘Frankenstein’s monster to a lot of people. The idea you can technically alter wine - wine should be a completely natural product, totally uninterfered, is still for many people the way in which they view this product.’
However, the message was these wines need to be brought into the mainstream and marketed as a decent drink first and a low alcohol choice second. All the major buyers were keen to see the big powerful brands bringing out low alcohol wines rather than small producers on the periphery. Julian Dyer, senior buyer at Sainsbury’s added, Let’s see if we can work on the mainstream and get the brands to work on lower alcohol wines.’