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More on those Wine Market Council stats

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Tuesday’s Wine Market Council presentation at New York’s Museum of Modern Art took place early in the morning following a night in which most of us got very little sleep. The WMC, working with The Nielsen Company, collects a vast amount of dry-as-dust data, from a multitude of sources, and then looks for patterns that make sense of all these shifting demographic and behavioral trends. The average person would fall asleep within three minutes of the Powerpoint show (and I saw several attendees who did), but for those of us hardcore industry geeks, it’s absolutely fascinating.

The WMC found that people who shop at supermarkets and superstores buy an average of $41 per visit (my number are approximate, as there was no complete handout of the slideshow, so I’m going by memory). But if they add a bottle of wine to the cart, the average purchase amount rises to about $74. This is why every store in the country, from mom-and-pop markets to Costco, wants to sell wine. However, the average price of that bottle of wine is $14, which leaves the extra $19 unaccounted for. I wonder what it goes to? The trimmings for a fancy home-cooked dinner? Flowers? Candles? Higher quality food?

The WMC people (and by the way, Wine Enthusiast helps underwrite the company) also pointed out that, while most of today’s marketing and PR energy seems geared toward Millennials, the fastest growing segment of the population actually continues to be Baby Boomers and seniors. But who is marketing to seniors, the man from Nielsen, Danny Brager, asked. Good question. Companies are marketing Depends, cholesterol meds and Medicare supplementals to seniors, but you never see ad campaigns for wine directed at them. And yet the white-haired crowd still drinks a lot of wine. Seniors would be a good target for wineries small and large (although I could envision a marketing or PR maven arguing, “But we don’t want to be perceived as a wine for old people”). Many wineries are pursuing Millennials and Xers with such gimmicks as animal labels, loud colors, vehicles, crazy designs and pun-like names, but seniors don’t care about that and may in fact be turned off by them. Seniors care about price and quality and they want to feel that the producer thought about them. So, wine marketing managers, don’t write off senior citizens.

This relates to the survery’s most fascinating finding. According to WMC and Nielsen:

WINE       BEER

I like well-known brands:                              1             34

I like to explore new brands:                       42              5

In other words, beer drinkers stick with their tried-and-true favorites (Bud Lite, Coors, whatever) and rarely venture outside their comfort zone. Wine drinkers by contrast are 8 times more likely to be adventurous and try something new.

Why? The WMC guys didn’t know, but we can hazard some guesses. It’s because:

1. wine is inherently more interesting than beer.
2. wine changes with each vintage and people know that whereas beer always tastes the same.
3. wine drinkers listen more to gatekeepers, such as critics, than do beer drinkers.
4. wine is so much better with food than beer.
5. there are so many more wine brands than beer brands to choose from.
6. most importantly, wine drinkers are more adventurous than beer drinkers because we’re risk takers, curious, liberal, open to improving ourselves and our lives, smarter (but don’t think we know everything), and more hopeful than beer drinkers, who, for all their charms, are (let’s face it) happiest with a kegger and an ample supply of beer nuts.

Anyway, that’s what I think! It’s great to be back in (relatively) warm Northern California.

Corrections: Michael Mondavi did not attend the recent Wine Star Awards, as I reported. The correct name of the President and CEO of Southern Wine & Spirits is Harvey Chaplin.

  1. I agree that wine drinkers are much more likely to want to try new brands. But ooh, Steve, I’m very skeptical of these findings for many reasons.

    I drink both wine and beer. I’m much more likely to buy from within the same brands of beer, but will actually go out of my way to try new wines. I think the level of “adventurousness” speaks more to the product than the person. You’ll probably find that Grey Goose drinkers or Louis XIII drinkers are a lot less likely to experiment with other brands too — even if they also drink wine.

    The most telling stat for me is the “I like well-known brands”. Aside from the fact that beer preference tends to have more to do with marketing than taste, there is not the same range of quality in beer at certain price points as you have with wine — the “best” beers are not $100+ and therefore saved for special occasions (if at all).

    Conversely, the well-known wines tend to be pooh-poohed by a certain segment of wine drinkers. Further, popular wines (or “table” wines, if you like – it’s not an exact synonym, but close enough in this case I think) are chosen because everyone will drink them at family dinner, or because they are cheaper, not because they are necessarily well-liked or considered to be “the best”.

    IMHO,

    ~Graham

    P.S. I emailed you some info I thought you might find interesting on improving vine hardiness, but it had some links so may not have made it through the spam filter. Let me know if it didn’t and I’ll send again.

  2. hhmmm, quite.

    1. wine is inherently more interesting than beer.

    thus dismissing the need for you to justify your prejudice.

    2. wine changes with each vintage and people know that whereas beer always tastes the same.

    clearly never heard of barleywine, imperial stout, old ale and so on an so forth.

    3. wine drinkers listen more to gatekeepers, such as critics, than do beer drinkers.

    gatekeepers? critics are there to keep the riff-raff out? Somewhat snobby and haughty don’t you think?

    4. wine is so much better with food than beer.

    again the simple statement of prejudice is no argument.

    5. there are so many more wine brands than beer brands to choose from.

    Nonsense, utter nonsense.

    6. most importantly, wine drinkers are more adventurous than beer drinkers because we’re risk takers, curious, liberal, open to improving ourselves and our lives, smarter (but don’t think we know everything), and more hopeful than beer drinkers, who, for all their charms, are (let’s face it) happiest with a kegger and an ample supply of beer nuts.

    perhaps you might like to be adventurous, take a risk and actually try some of the craft beers being produced around the world, heck even just in your home town? You might be surprised, though given the sneering tone of many a wine lover I have met, you would never deign to actually enjoy it.

    For a self-professed “liberal”, your list is worthy of the finest narrow minded, prejudicial twits the planet has to offer.

  3. I disagree on several points…

    1. wine is inherently more interesting than beer.

    Beer is actually more complex than wine because of the number of ingredients and the process required to make it. There are hundreds, nay, thousands, of aromas and flavors you can get from a beer. It’s a science. There are universities in Europe dedicated to brewing. I learn something new every day!

    2. wine changes with each vintage and people know that whereas beer always tastes the same.

    Beer always staying the same is a huge part of its appeal, so you are correct. Craft brewers and domestic brewers alike strive for quality and consistency in their products. Who wants to open a $100 bottle of wine and find out it tastes like vinegar? I buy beer because of the taste I love and know I’ll get when I open that bottle or pour that tap.

    3. wine drinkers listen more to gatekeepers, such as critics, than do beer drinkers.

    Beer is an industry just as much as wine. Online you can discover numerous blogs, websites, books and organizations dedicated to this incredible product. We pay attention!

    4. wine is so much better with food than beer.

    Because of the huge number of aroma and flavor notes you can acquire from a beer (twice as many as wine) there are infinite combinations of beer styles and dishes.

    5. there are so many more wine brands than beer brands to choose from.

    Thousands of breweries in the US alone. Each makes between 3 and 30 styles of beer. Bigger breweries make more. Add to that the rest of the world… and you’ve got a lot of beer. New styles are being brewed every day, so (hopefully) we never run out of brands to try! In addition to the 4 basic ingredients, brewers are always adding unique spices, fruits, roots and coffee flavors to their recipes for even more complexity.

    6. most importantly, wine drinkers are more adventurous than beer drinkers because we’re risk takers, curious, liberal, open to improving ourselves and our lives, smarter (but don’t think we know everything), and more hopeful than beer drinkers, who, for all their charms, are (let’s face it) happiest with a kegger and an ample supply of beer nuts.

    You just described me, except I don’t drink wine unless I’m at a wine tasting. There is a big difference between domestic and craft beers, which is something I think should be pointed out in this study. Yes, domestic beers are what you imagine when you think of kegs and folks throwing back cans of Miller Lite. But a good Stout or Black Saison is absolute heaven after a long day at work, and I can’t imagine eating a steak without a good microbrew lager next to my plate.

  4. So, I live in the land of Pinot Noir known as Oregon. Our 3.8M residents are proud of our wine, but perhaps even more proud of our beer.

    In Oregon there currently are 112 brewing facilities. In my hometown of Portland, (aka Beervana) we have 46 (and counting) brewers each with their standard, seasonal and limited release offerings. Within a mile radius of my house, there are over 150 different taps to choose from (and I try as many as I can). From triples, to stouts, to sours, to pales, to IPAs, our selection is immensely varied and vast.

    So, before you throw out broad generalizations regarding beer, especially with regards to beer drinkers “not being adventurous” and beer “always tasting the same,” I’d recommend you take a trip to our neck of the woods and really understand what beer drinking is about.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think wine is great. I enjoyed my trips to napa/sonoma when I lived in San Francisco, but there is a whole different world of tasty beverage to enjoy, as long as a few prejudices can be overcome.

  5. Graham, my spam filter must have devoured your earlier email. Sorry.

  6. “most importantly, wine drinkers are more adventurous than beer drinkers because we’re risk takers,”

    Really? When’s the last time you saw somebody throw back a bottle of wine, hop on their ATV, and say, “Hey y’all – watch this” before they go flying into the side of a hill.

    All joking aside there are several disputable assumptions in today’s post. I drink equal amounts of craft beer and quality wine, deriving enjoyment from each whether drinking them by themselves or with meals. My local microbrewery goes to great lengths to emphasize ale/food pairings. (Lamb paired with a Bourbon-barrel aged barley wine is sublime).

    Micro brewers are equally enthusiastic about explaining their craft and processes, and perhaps more accessable than winemakers. I have toured several breweries (As a founding member/Liquorblogger of Martinirepublic.com) and found all brewers to be inviting and informative. The Great American Beer Festival, held anually in Denver, is as big and influential as any wine-tasting/judging event.

    Beer even had it’s own version of Robert Parker (the late Michael Jackson). though Michael was far less arrogant.

    To your credit you signed off with “Anyway, that’s what I think” and I doubt that mine or any of the previous comments will change your bias, but there is a whole lot more to beer than the now foreign-owned “big three” (Miller, Coors, Bud). In your city, you have several excellent craft brewers and taphouses, from the originator (Anchor Steam), the funky (Toronado in the Haight) to 21st Amendment.

  7. I see many commenters have beat me to the point-by-point rebuttal that you certainly deserve, so I’ll make a few other follow-up points.

    Your beer drinker vs. wine drinker profile is a little bit cherry-picked, is it not? I worked for a few years at a quirky California grocery store chain known for its bargain wine selection. What wine did we sell the most (besides the famous $1.99 selection – which they do sell by the case-stack and not infrequently by the pallet)? Red and white lambrusco ($3.99) and Moscato d’Asti ($5.99), with more sweetness and less nuance than a glass of grape soda. White zinfandel ($2.99). Sweet, oaky Chardonnay and the sweetest, inkiest reds the section buyers could discover.

    What about the Gallo jug drinkers? What about the caricature of the Orange County housewife washing her Prozac down with a tumbler of Franzia from the box? The people who feels sophisticated for drinking the fancy almond “champagne,” not that horrible dry French stuff?

    I don’t care what people enjoy – and I think it’s great that people discover wine that they find approachable and delicious – but there is an enormous wine-drinking “proletariat” that you choose to ignore while describing the wine-drinking “elite” that you perceive.

    Not all wine drinkers are all those lovely adjectives that you list. The “liberal” one makes me laugh the most, for two reasons. One, if you line up all the wine people and beer people that I know personally – though the line is blurry – on average the wine people are generally more conservative and the beer people are much more liberal. Two, while brewers give a nod to the traditional recipes, they are much more likely to experiment with new ingredients, techniques, and flavors. My head spins with the fervor and moral indignation that wine people fight over the correctness of old world vs. new world winemaking styles, ripeness, alcohol levels, we all could go on.

    Not all beer people are simpletons content to stuff their face with peanuts, either. Sure, there are guys who like to sit in the garage and drink a 30-pack of BMC, just as there are the “What’s the cheapest, sweetest wine with the cutest animal on the label?” wine drinkers. As many other people have noted, the craft beer scene is full of smart, curious, adventurous, risk-taking drinkers who take beer seriously and approach it intellectually.

    You are up in NorCal, yes? You’re surrounded by some of the finest beer being brewed in the world. Take a trip to Russian River Brewing. There not only will you find beer in a wide range of styles as nuanced and complex as fine wine, but you will find the beer drinkers who are as passionate and adventurous as any wine drinker. (I’m quite sure you will also find the “Give me a pitcher of your lightest beer” person as well as the extreme beer snob… just like you’ll find at any wine tasting, wine bar, or wine event. But both species will be rare.)

    One last point. There is much debate about whether beer or wine is more food-friendly. What “food” do you speak of? Despite how much wine advocates rave about Riesling with Asian food, I’d rather have a lager with my sushi (or Chinese food, or Vietnamese food) every single time. No question for me. I’d rather have a Bohemia with my Mexican food, no matter how much Rick Bayless’ sommelier raves about how great a big California Zin goes with his spicy mole. Germany makes beautiful wines, but they literally have set the standard for brewing – and their beers are made for the table, just like their wines.

    Anyway, as an industry professional, why are you so willing to alienate a huge part of your customer base? I’m a fine wine drinker AND a craft beer drinker (and an artisan spirits drinker and a cider drinker and a sake drinker…). I sell beer and wine, and frankly, I’m personally MORE excited to expose our customers to the innovative, delicious brews that I drink every day, because I’m so excited to see the scene grow and evolve.

  8. Some other numbers I found interesting from Nielsen which I find hard to jibe with only 1% of wine drinkers liking well known brands. Only 20% of the sales above $8.99, so if most wine drinkers don’t like major brands, they probably don’t like what they are drinking. Nielsen also reports that 61% of wine sales in 2010 were under $5.99. Could it be a lot of wine drinkers think Charles Shaw is a small Napa winery and Yellow Tail is a boutique winery down under?

    Also, Bill S. (I can’t believe I am going to defend RP) I know Robert Parker and have never found him arrogant. He’s a perfectly nice guy who as long as he is successful doesn’t see any need to change no matter how silly he might really be. (maybe that is arrogance, I don’t know.) And, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the late Michael Jackson also had a bogus 100 point scoring “system” for beer which he appeared to have copied from Parker.

    Nielsen numbers are below…Volume in Millions of cases of wine sold at food, drug, convenience and other retail chains. Doesn’t include bars, restaurants, as well as some independent and chain retailers. (52 weeks 2010)

    Price Volume
    under 2.99 29.5
    3 to 5.99 47.3
    6 to 8.99 22.1
    9 to 11.99 15.7
    12 to 14.99 6.0
    15 to 19.99 2.9
    over 20.00 1.4

    Nielsen numbers are below…Volume in Millions of cases of wine sold at food, drug, convenience and other retail chains. Doesn’t include bars, restaurants, as well as some independent and chain retailers. (52 weeks 2010)

    Price Volume
    under 2.99 29.5
    3 to 5.99 47.3
    6 to 8.99 22.1
    9 to 11.99 15.7
    12 to 14.99 6.0
    15 to 19.99 2.9
    over 20.00 1.4

  9. Well, the numbers looked good when I typed them!

  10. Since everyone’s already chimed in with the absurdity of that list, I do want to agree that the interesting demographics you point out at the top are valuable for lots of industries, potentially including craft beer. Marketing to seniors is going to be something that a few places will do well to their great benefit while everyone else fights over Millennials. In beer, one good example from near me was the revival of ghost brand Reading Premium beer by the craft brewery Legacy (now owned by Ruckus Brewing). The revival of a brand from the past resonated with seniors and boomers who remembered it from their childhood.

    I honestly don’t understand the wine versus beer paradigm that you’re working with here. Can I enjoy a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and a first-growth Bordeaux, even though they’re radically different tastes? Okay, well then why do wine and beer have to be on opposite sides? Do grains have a secret blood feud with grapes of which I am unaware?

    Not everyone needs to like everything, and if beer isn’t your thing, then fine. But small wineries and breweries alike take a great deal of pride in the intricacies and nuance of their crafts. They strive for new styles, diverse flavors, and flawless execution. They strive to add to and build on traditions thousands of years old. Why cherry pick one stat that seems to ring false to anyone who’s been in a liquor store and then kick an entire industry – with great overlap in customer base to your own – under the bus?

    There were so many ways to approach this topic that would have embraced the good things about craft beer, rather than put yourself on the opposing sides of people who really should be your kindred spirits.

  11. Breathtaking ignorance about beer. Let’s hope you know what you’re writing about when it comes to wine.

  12. Steve,
    I’m a big fan of your writing, and if I had to pick one blog to tell a friend to visit that proved not all wine writers/critics are snobs, yours would definitely be in contention. But man, this post ain’t helping.

    The first stat is misleading. Beer drinkers stick to “well-known brands” because there are simply more well-known brands in the beer world than in the wine world. Say all you want about KJ or Gallo or Mondavi, but they just don’t have the market presence that Bud/Coors/Miller have. Wine market segmentation leads to less well-known brands, which leads to wine drinkers drinking well-known brands less- because there are less of them.

    The second stat: Maybe this is about value. Maybe wine drinkers will stop “exploring” once winemakers get around to providing enough value to get people to drink their stuff more than once before moving on. I say this as someone that sees no value in Bud/Coors Light. I fit the millennial stereotype in that I love exploring all sorts of beer/wine/spirits. But if I find something with value I’ll definitely come back to it. And I’m sure this isn’t a millennial-exclusive trait.

    And on point #4, check out the gospel of Garrett Oliver, Brooklyn Brewery’s brewmaster, on food and beer pairing. Dude is a genius!

  13. I apologize for my previous comment regarding Mr. Robert Parker. And I agree with Lisa regarding Russian River Brewing Co. Their ales, including Pliny the Elder, are regularly represented at our beer judgings.

  14. I’d like to clarify the beer vs wine stats that Steve cited, and hopefully calm some excited beer fans here. The numbers are not % of wine-drinkers or beer drinkers, they are the % that agreed minus the % that disagreed. In other words, wine drinkers were split almost evenly between those who agreed and those who disagreed on the subject of buying well-known brands. In contrast, beer drinkers were much more likely to agree. In addition, the full agreement statements ran “I prefer to buy well-known brands” and “I like to explore new or different products”.

    But the main thing to remember is that in terms of market share, craft brews are still quite small compared to the behemoths of Miller, Bud and Coors. In a representative sample of the U.S. adult population, the attitudes of the vast numbers of consumers of these brands drown out those of the core craft brew consumers. Furthermore, many craft brew consumers are also wine consumers, thus they may not self-define as primarily beer consumers for a survey question like this. So Steve’s basic points are sound and don’t really apply to craft brew enthusiasts.

  15. Greg Brumley says:

    What ARE you trying to say here?

    The simplistic premise is that people who drink beer must be completely alien from people who drink wine. God only knows how you’d categorize people who drink hard liquor.

    Let’s try something truly unique and crazy: Let’s look at people who drink wine and beer and hard liquor. The amazing fact is that there are a lot of them — like damn near everybody!

    I doubt my experience is all that unique. I drink one whiskey, which I’ve enjoyed for decades; you won’t get me off that. I kinda guess we tend to be possessive of “our” dark distilled brands. I drink less beer than wine,so I tend to explore only the few brews I’ve been coaxed to try. Since I drink more wine, I like to try new wines. Half the fun of drinking wine is trying something new.

    Since I tend to drink with friends who are wine drinkers — usually in homes — trying something new is central to the social experience. Its exploring, with all the attendant adventure and surprises. Discovering a $12 South African pinotage may be as much fun as discovering a well-aged California Rhone varietal at 5 times the price.

    I don’t explore beer, I think, because it so often seems to be done at microbreweries — or bars which offer great varieties of beer. My crowd doesn’t go to microbreweries or bars. I would suspect the microbrewery crowd may explore wine somewhat like I explore beer; at least they’re less likely to spend the evening in a wine bar.

    Beyond that, this discussion has as much relevance as trying to draw great social contrasts between baseball fans and football fans.

    Until this post, I didn’t realize how pervasive alcohol xenophobia really is. At least you didn’t quote the indignant WASP in the old TV commercial: “Those French have a different word for everything!”

  16. Steve – as someone who loves wine AND beer, I think some of your statements about beer are on the mark but apply only really to the mass-market beer segment (and probably also to the mass-market wine segment as well). So, the comparison isn’t apples-to-apples but more apples-to-oranges (mass-market beer to fine wine, instead of craft beer to fine wine, which I’d argue would have many, many similarities).

    Cheers!

  17. 1WineDude see today’s post.

  18. Whoa!!!

    No one drinks beer or wine or liquor the same way. I mean that a serving of beer is roughly 12 oz. and you can drink at least 2 of them. Most of us do not drink 2 12 oz glasses of wine in a row or as fast. I do not think any of us drink liquor like that either. So. Comparisons are really pointless.

    Some like complex and interesting wines and at the same time drink beers as a substitute for soft drinks. Some are primarly beer drinkers with the ability to pick out cascade hops out of a blend of 4 used in a beer, and may have a fav wine or two. Some folks drink liquor and will only drink wine at family gatherings. So What??

    Polls and such and stats and such are narrow marketing tools.

    Another stat, chardonnay is the most planted white wine grape. So? That only means what is says. It does not mean that chardonnay is the mose popular white wine, or the most popular white wine everywhere. The difference is Princple and Precedent.

  19. Very interesting that no one has bothered to address the identified drift away from marketing wine to the other major population group (Baby Boomers who are now becoming seniors). Last numbers I checked this age demographic, regardless of title, owns about 70% plus of US wealth. Hmmmm, maybe they have some buying power too!

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