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Marketing wine to minorities: Part 2

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I blogged the other day about that new census data showing that more minority babies than white babies are being born in the U.S. for the first time in our history.

I said that IMHO the wine industry needs to take this very seriously, especially family wineries that hope to be around for generations as well as large corporate wine companies with responsibilities to investors. “They need to stop being complacent. And let there be no doubt, there is a lot of complacency in California,” is what I wrote.

Well, that post got a lot of comments, and many of them were highly critical of my statement. People wrote in and said I should get out of Oakland more often and up to wine country to see the diversity of humankind that comes through tasting rooms. I thought this criticism was a little severe, given that (1) Oakland is the most diverse city in America and (2) I’m in wine country plenty, believe me, including tasting rooms. Now, I’m not in tasting rooms as much as tasting room employees, but I can tell you that whenever I’m in a tasting room–be it Santa Ynez Valley, Monterey County, Napa Valley, Russian River Valley, or wherever–most of the people I see are white.

Anyway, I’m not writing to rehash that whole thing. Instead I want to cite this article, from the Wharton School of Business at U. Penn, that strengthens my argument. Although it doesn’t specifically address the U.S. wine industry, it does make very strong and, I think, irrefutable points, which are direct quotes:

- this demographic trend creates a need [for businesses] to recast their products and strategies to reach non-whites.

- [wineries should] design products for different ethnicities and produc[e] marketing materials in the languages and media channels [that different demographic groups] favor

- [the changes] could mean new product opportunities for companies, and require them to adopt different segmentation strategies.

- the most effective advertising messages and media channels could be very different for minorities and companies have to tailor their marketing strategies accordingly, from marketing campaigns to probably the product itself.

Several people who commented on my blog noted that they believe the industry is rising to these challenges, and they cited Moscato as the example. My reaction to that was, it’s fine, as far as it goes; but that’s a pretty weak premise to build a strategy on. Yes, Moscato arose out of the hip-hop community, which was great in that it was truly a bottom-up (as opposed to a top-down) phenomenon, fueled by music and social media. But I have two questions: Does anyone believe that Moscato will stay on fire for even five years? I don’t. I suspect most of it will end up in blends when the trend dies. And number two, the Moscato craze doesn’t prove that minorities are embracing wine. Far from it. All it proves is that a phenomenon like that is not replicable. Tomorrow’s hip-hop song could be about peach wine, and then that would be the new thing.

The most startling finding in the Wharton article is that “The percentage of Americans who are Caucasian continues to fall steadily, especially among the youngest generation.” What is the industry doing to promote wine to younger Asians, Blacks and Latinos? I see targeted ads for them, both in print, billboards and online, for beer and liquor, but aside from the Moscato thing, I don’t see young people embracing wine. The reason? Beer and liquor have simple messages. You get stoned–you have fun. Wine’s message is not, and never has been, that simple. I think that some wine companies, like Gallo, “get it” when it comes to selling wine to the street; but the very fact that so many people still, mistakenly, see Gallo as pandering means that the lesson hasn’t been learned by everyone.

Habits developed during youth, including preference of alcoholic beverage, persist into adulthood. The only thing that changes is that, when the person is older, she has more money and can drink up in quality. That’s why it’s important to get these younger minority folks interested in wine. The wine industry is going to have to do a lot more than it now does for that to happen.

  1. I think part of the issue is that wine is seen as a “serious” drink. One that is carefully considered at the time of purchase (or before) and paired with a meal. This takes planning.
    Beer and cocktails, on the other hand, are seen as a more spontaneous social lubricant and usually not burdened with pairing.

    Yellow Tail has done a decent job of advertising to young and ethnically diverse customers but the ad suggests a small intimate sit-down rather than a dynamic beach or concert vibe that beer and alco-pop companies drive at, which brings up another difference – portability. Maybe if there were more 375ml and 187ml offerings out there wine might make some inroads.

  2. Steve: I’ll grant you that Oakland is pretty diverse. How is it that you figure it is “the most diverse city in America”? Just curious. Judging by the 2010 census stats, I’d say my home city of Houston is comparably diverse.

    Regarding the topic, I still just don’t think there is a real ethnic issue for wine. When I was young I drank only beer-first cheap domestic beer then better beer. Later I explored mixed drinks and whiskey, which seemed more sophisticated. Finally, I moved on to wine. I think this was a matter of taste, economic means, and maturity and had nothing to do with race. In my view the wine industry needs to continue to market in a way that combats the notion that wine is somehow inscrutable and only for “snobs.” There’s been a lot of success in this area which has resulted in the explosion of the wine market. So long as individuals have the means (and there is quite a bit of high quality wine out there at a reasonable price), my view is that ethnic minorties will drink wine just like anyone else. Wine delivers an experience — the way it can associate in one’s memory with particular times spent with friends, meals, places. (Evan Dawson said this much better than me in a recent article.) This experience ought to be communicated to all prospective consumers, regardless of ethnicity. It has universal appeal in my view once you are beyond the drinking just to get drunk stage. I’m not sure what it means to “recast [one's] products and strategies to reach non-whites,” if not to develop products and marketing around pop culture cliches. I think that would be a mistake. As you note this pop culture trends are fleeting.

  3. I have two quick points: 1) Most (not all) of this argument seems to broad brush all minorities into a single group and implies that this single group will all respond positively to the same type of product and advertising, which is clearly not the case IMHO. Given this assumption, whites are still the largest single group to target with a single marketing campaign and are therefore representative of the best “bank for your buck” in advertising. Until the Hispanics, Asians, or Blacks singly outnumber whites, it may well represent a small ROI to venture to market to them individually. 2) In order to deal with the “snob” and “requires planning” stigmas currently associated with wine, I feel like a better lineup of transition beverages may help these cultures overcome these issues. Something like Arbor Mist (if marketed to someone other than middle-aged white women) could potentially introduce wine-like (wine coolers?) beverages to those who wouldn’t buy a “serious” beverage.

  4. I think from the responses so far most of us don’t get it. We do need to understand how wine currently plays in some of these diverse cultures and also how it might be accepted in areas where it hasn’t been a historical factor. This is much more how can the industry adapt and reach those customers rather than how can we market what we have to them.
    Thankfully we make wine in Oakland and have tapped into some of our local diversity. We’re having lots of fun doing wine and taco/tamale pairing along with Vietnamese, soul food, and other ethnic cuisines. In some cases we have wines that work in others we need to experiment together.
    What’s left unsaid here is how is it that corporations that play across the beverage spectrum,like Diageo and Constellation, are missing this? Or are they?

  5. Steve S, we should get together sometime! I think that big corps like Diageo and Constellation are probably more ahead of the curve in marketing than small boutique wineries, which often have little experience at selling wine.

  6. Mike, I’ve read that Oakland is the most diverse. Maybe it’s in terms of being a relatively small city, there’s a higher percentage of various ethnic populations than in a big city like Houston or NY.

  7. My African American friend, Wendell, then a Black Panther, used to keep a gallon jug of Bali Hai in my fridge in the 60′s, once to the delight of one of my wine professors who lived next door. Constellation has been well ahead of the curve. They have been selling their MD 20/20 to minorities on skid rows all over the country for at least four decades. Let’s not forget about the “wine cooler” craze of in the 80′s and wet t-shirt contests. Now it is Moscato.

    We have been very successful at bringing wine down to the level of the “common man” , but I’m not sure it has gotten us anywhere. Eventually they always realize they are drinking crap. I think the solution is to improve the economic status of the common man, rather than degrade the beverage or its image.

  8. Steve, with all due respect one could argue that your position is inherently racist.

    What makes you think minorities aren’t attracted to the same wine lifestyle messages that whites are? Do you think Spanish, Mexican, Brazilian, Argentine, Chilean or Chinese wineries really market their wines to their domestic populations any differently than Calif wineries do here? (Trust me, they don’t).

    The distinction is more education & income, not race. Just as the lower income/uneducated in those countries prefer lower cost beer or spirits, the same is true here, be they black, brown or white.

    So, if you’re making the assumption that all the “minority” babies who grow up to become the “majority” will not increase their income or education level then indeed wine sales will decrease but that will be the least of our problems as a Country/economy…

  9. Given there are more Hispanic Americans than Canadians,if you have sales and/or marketing programs targeted at Canada and none targeting Hispanics in the US you should ask yourself why that is so? The index of Hispanic wine consumption in the US is about 95 vs an anglo index of 103 so the difference is real but irrelevant.

  10. Thank you for touching on this sensitive spot. We have “miles to go before we sleep”(-walk through wine marketing). Moscato really is the closest thing we’ve seen cross these lines. Chocolate Shop wine attracts the same “sweet teeth;” it pulls younger drinkers and a mosaic of ethnic backgrounds. We’ve taken this -gateway- wine to the people at consumer events from wine country to the inner cities, and there is a huge demand. The groundswell from non white populations is notable; they’re on Facebook and Twitter preaching it. Taking the wine to the people via events is a powerful way to get out from the behind-the-counter mentality. Traditional wine or not, it’s an eye opener to go to delve into many geographic reaches and let the people tell YOU what works, face to face. First time commenting, long time lurker.

  11. Heidi, thanks. Hope you’ll comment more often!

  12. Just want to throw in some observations. I work part time on weekends in the tasting room of a winery in a rural setting in Santa Barbara county. The majority of people I serve are white. The next highest is Hispanic followed by Asian. We serve dry white and red wines and occasionally off-dry whites or late harvest whites. The only major thing I notice is some Hispanic women tend to gravitate to sweet wines and don’t care for dry wines of any type. Otherwise, tastes and buying preferences are not any different between the three main ethnic groups.

    The other observation is when the Hispanic cowboys and their wives ride up on their horses and picnic at our facility with friends, they drink 2 of our wines: the men drink our dry Grenache/Syrah blend and women (and some men) drink our off-dry (1.7 – 2.3% RS) Riesling. They also only drink wine and don’t bring beer with them. Their age range is from 30 – 50. The winery and region I work in is focused on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

  13. Wow, I guess since Moscato is a wine that can be attributed to minorities and the Hip-Hop Community, its a fad, and since wine is a “serious” drink, minorities have to stick to malt liquor and whatever they can find in the corner liquor store that is consumed from a brown paper bag.
    White people simply amaze me, they continue to stereotype and make erroneous statements and judgments, using their “unique” sense of education on a matter where they have no education at all. That’s the reason that Caucasian is becoming the new minority. Instead of judging others, they might want to take the time to see how they will handle the transition…since you have demographic census data to support that there is a decline in Caucasian births…just sayin’ lolol. I find it amusing and hypocritical that Caucasians can’t be stereotyped, but when it comes to minorities, they’re all the same

  14. Carlos Toledo says:

    The definition of minority in the USA is long overdue for a change.

    I’m a (stats-wise) minority in my own country, though in political, educational and financial terms we “rule” yet.

  15. Stacy, thank you for a valuable point of view. I am torn between my Oakland values of equality and my wine history values, which I cannot refute. This is a fantastic conversation and I welcome your input.

  16. John Roberts says:

    I thought while reading this that it’s author’s perspective must have surely been shaped by identity politics and marketing 101, my goodness. While I don’t think anyone arguing that wine is appreciated more widely would rest their case on Moscato alone, one mustn’t forget that Moscato has a tradition and origin of greatness outweighing some formulated market driven malt beverage. This was consumed and produced for its own sake pre-dating your conceptions. Whites make up the majority of wine drinkers because of economics, yes. The degree is over-stated however, as is the reasoning and premis which follow. The problem isn’t marketing, it is that race becomes the hinging factor. Do you think blacks like marketing crammed down their throats, all concerning their blackness? Driven by stereotypes and privileged Cosmo attitudes. This is when irony has ignorant country folk much more advanced than their city cousin. Well, we can all agree that great wine is great! Cheers!

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