The wine world, while steeped in tradition, is far from stagnant. Innovations from commerce and culture find their way into wine product development, leading to new experiences for consumers and new opportunities for producers.
At the recent Wine Vision conference in London, I sat down with two leading lights in wine trend-spotting: Lulie Halstead, co-founder and CEO of Wine Intelligence and an expert on wine consumer behavior, and Mandy Saven, head of food, beverage and hospitality at Stylus, where she charts developments across those industries.
Halstead has identified the four trends below as key themes to watch. Using this framework, we had a lively discussion of what these might mean for the wine industry in 2015:
In the food world, “Fusion” suggests a combination of two or more unique styles to create something new. It appeals to the risk-averse, because it incorporates elements with which people are already familiar.
Numerous speakers at Wine Vision argued that Gen Y is more cautious and less experimental than preceding generations. Halstead thinks fusion in the wine world will rise in popularity because it lets new wine drinkers mitigate risk by building upon their existing levels of trust.
The new Downton Abbey wine is one example. It mashes up a UK television and cultural concept with a U.S.-conceived brand extension into wine—and a Bordeaux wine at that. Plus, the product is slated for major distribution, including retail expansion in China.
Here’s another example, one that moves beyond product into experience: Terrior NY wine bar’s “HEAVY. METAL. MONDAY.”, which pairs Riesling with metal music favorites. It targets young consumers, saying, essentially, “If you like metal [which you’ve tried], you’ll like Riesling [which you haven’t].”
The health and well-being craze has reshaped the food and beverage industry over the last decades, and wine hasn’t been—ahem—immune. Saven cited how wine has been marketed as a health choice through product innovations like reduced-calorie offerings, intolerance protection, and super-fruit enhancement.
Yet Feel-good is a broader term that also incorporates food safety and origin, and both of these are prime concerns in European and Asian markets. Consumers want to feel positive about a company, including its ethics, corporate social responsibility, and branding. Will they pay more for such feel-good attributes? That’s a matter of debate, but momentum is growing, with countries like Sweden boasting 12.7% organic products on their shelves.
In wine, Feel-good also translates into organic, biodynamic, and low-sulfur options, along with the ethics of “drinking local.” It’s also about charitable causes, like the wines from Nomacorc customer One Hope, in which half of all profits are donated to its non-profit partners—totaling more than $1.3 million to date.
Content overload is a hurdle for brands trying to gain consumer mindshare. To be memorable, brands must be both distinctive and inspirational. Now, brands must also incite people to share their content with friends and network connections. “Freehold” refers to the mindshare earned when brand touch-points are shared and influence others beyond the initial target.
Gaining Freehold requires brands to develop sharable content—short, memorable and concise—and to leverage cultural icons and themes so the material has broader appeal. This lets brands ignite a community of engagement, enhancing mindshare and stickiness.
Coppola Winery, for example, has used memorabilia and other Hollywood assets from The Godfather to generate interest and drive traffic to their tasting room. And a growing number of wine-related projects are popping up on community funding sites like Kickstarter, which give contributors a stake in the project and rewards engagement with a signed book or a unique experience. Alder Yarrow funded the production of his recent book, The Essence of Wine, via this channel (his effort was proudly supported by Nomacorc).
Saven also suggests that integrating elements that serve as built-in conversation pieces can work in brands’ favor—for example, finding new ways to serve alcohol, from, say, a robot bartender.
If we think of the wine world as a pyramid, its foundation (and the biggest segment) is valuei, the middle tier is mass, and the elite pinnacle is luxury. With this model in mind, we can think of Fit as the brand’s suitability to the demands of each tier—its fitness for both purpose and audience—and the effort needed to occupy that niche or expand into others.
But the pyramid’s traditional tiers are becoming more permeable, and younger drinkers are the ones driving the shift. They tend to spend more than their older counterparts on a bottle of wine—when they want a particular experience. In other words, they’re willing to reach from value into luxury when they can get a great price to quality ratio.
Also, although many wine labels aspire to be luxury, the reality is that most aren’t. They need to find ways to acknowledge their strengths and market them to consumers. For example, the subtle and complex concept of terroir isn’t prevalent in the mass and value categories. However, these categories can embrace the idea of a wine style—big and bold, or light and fresh—and address it through a story on a back label. And as in many consumer goods categories, the more simple and relevant the story, the stronger the connection with the audience.
i Halstead was quick to point out that the bottom tier should be described as “value,” not “volume,” because consumers are demanding more from this basic category.