Tapping Trends to Win New Wine Consumers

Want to grow your wine market? “Aim at the Engaged Newcomers,” says Chris Fehrnstrom, a marketing executive with over thirty years of experience leading wine brands.

Ditto the Overwhelmeds. “There’s a big opportunity there.”

7-14_genomeprojectThose are two of six cohorts in Constellation Brands’ Wine Genome Project, a segmentation model begun in 2004 that breaks North American wine consumers into attitudinal types. Fehrnstrom thinks these two constitute a vastly underserved market.

During his six-year tenure as chief marketing officer at Constellation Brands, Fehrnstrom oversaw the 2012 re-boot of Constellation’s Wine Genome research, which identified significant changes in consumer behavior. Speaking recently to a group of wine marketers at Nomacorc’s Exchange forum,[i] Fehrnstrom rattled off the trends he’s now watching as a result of this refresh:

  • There are more core wine consumers, and wine consumption is expanding. But—
  • The wine landscape also feels more complex and overwhelming. This leads to more difficult purchase decision making, especially for those new to the category. Conversely—
  • People do know more about wine, and more people consider themselves experts—14 percent in 2004, versus 22 percent in 2012. Meanwhile—
  • More people are concerned about where their wine comes from, and are more sensitive to imports. This mirrors a general cultural uptick in interest about food source and quality. But—
  • People remain persuadable; Constellation has noted a dramatic increase in the perception of quality based on the wine’s packaging. And finally—
  • Wine has become more of a staple as it has become more integrated into social activities; 75 percent of surveyed consumers reported that they view wine as “integral” to their lifestyle and experience.


Many wine brands want to harness these trends to expand their reach, but Fehrnstrom cautions about the “Paradox of Penetration”—the fact that people generally buy wine they’ve tasted before, while brands need to attract people who haven’t tasted their wine.

Clearly packaging, and point-of-sale generally, factors heavily into that calculus. It might be good news that the package is more persuasive than ever before. But marketers must strike a balance between emphasizing a wine’s intrinsic cues—the variety and vintage, its origin—and its extrinsic cues like the brand name, price, or tasting notes.

“Most of us try to make an impact in-store,” says Fehrnstrom, targeting how wine consumers shop, think, and make decisions at the point of sale. But canny marketers will acknowledge the new behavioral and attitudinal models that show that different consumer segments respond differently to extrinsic and intrinsic factors—and therein lies an opportunity.

9-8_WinebackstoryExperienced wine drinkers, for example—those who consider themselves knowledgeable enthusiasts—may like the details of wine’s backstory. But some studies show certain wine consumers are put off by jargon and technical narratives, which works against marketers’ impulse to fill back labels or shelf-talkers chock full of particulars.

Constellation’s been trying to look at this problem in a fresh light, and has found that focusing on occasions—on how the consumer actually uses the wine, how it fits into their lifestyle—can lead to success with some groups.

Remember those Engaged Newcomers from the top? They’re a group that’s young, curious, digitally connected, mostly male, and hungry for wine. Those Overwhelmeds, meanwhile, skew older and female. They like wine, too, but hate shopping for it.

The connection between these two groups is confidence—or lack thereof. Both find wine intimidating, and attracting those new to wine, especially those who feel overwhelmed or intimidated, might require an emphasis on fit over facts, on lifestyle over winemaking style.

This strategy can work across categories, too, Fehrnstrom suggests. “We’re not going after non-users,” he says, because that’s too hard a group to engage. “But we’re assuming the Engaged Newcomer messaging is going to connect with the non-user segment, too.” In short, if you can connect with the curious but under-confident, you will grow your reach.

Below are additional trends Fehrnstrom cited, along with some tactics I think might work well for the new-to-wine cohorts poised for growth:

Reboot the label.

9-8_Blank_Label_BottlesGroups who find wine blather off-putting might respond better to label tips on how to pour it, pair it, and serve it. In other words, packaging focused less on what the wine is than what it’s for—how it’s used in a social setting, what desire it fulfills. And this doesn’t necessarily have to be done in text; in fact, it’s possibly better done in graphics and pictures.

Rethink your visitor center.

“All of our visitor centers have the same look and feel,” says Fehrnstrom. “They’re going after the wine Enthusiast”—namely, the established wine drinker, usually older and with plenty of disposable income. But he sees places popping up that clearly cater those who are newer to wine, younger, and more experimental.

That approach suggests an entirely different design aesthetic, one for those more accustomed to urban bar than faux château. It also means offering a wider range of tasting flights, pairing bites, hands-on educational sessions, and plenty of lower-cost experiences that let people explore and learn in a low-key, relaxed, non-threatening setting.

Put a box on it.

Fehrnstrom noted strong growth in premium box wine—a price point of $20 for 3L—and believes this will continue to evolve into even higher price points.

So while you’re working on that label redesign, consider throwing a bag-in-box option into the mix. These big boxes also offer a lot more real estate to make a case—especially visually—for a wine’s extrinsic cues. 

But remember to think outside the box, too.

Fetzer recently launched a bourbon barrel-aged Zinfandel, which offers not only a new flavor option, but actually creates a whole new category of wine—one polished with bourbon’s historical patina. It’s a wine to pull in bourbon lovers.

Fehrnstrom also sees growth in flavored beverages; think, for example, of the Gallo Barefoot line, or for that matter the entire spirits category. “There’s a tremendous opportunity for cross-category beverages,” he says.

It’s all about the blend.

Red blends aren’t new (can you say Bordeaux or Châteuneuf-du-Pape?), but in the U.S. they’re enjoying strong growth, Fehrnstrom observes, citing the wild success of red blends Apothic, Ménage à Trois, and Carnivor. All of these fall into the ultra-premium category—“that’s where the action is,” he says.

Yes, ultra-premium, but not exactly vineyard designate. When the wine’s expression of place is less important than its social cues, fruit can come from almost anywhere—indeed, all three of those reds Fehrnstrom cites are AVA California. And their packaging, too, is sometimes edgy and goth-inspired, clearly meant to appeal to a younger crowd.

Varietally ascendant.

Moscato came and went, Fehrnstrom says, but he sees Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir expanding, citing in particular the on-premise success of Meiomi by the bottle and by the glass. Fehrnstrom also thinks there’s a strong opportunity to re-invigorate Merlot, and to create a new category for white wines that doesn’t exist today.

All this leaves me wondering, How can we make the old feel new, for those who are new to wine?

[i] Read more about Constellation’s Wine Genome Project and additional wine consumer segmentation models in an earlier Nomacorc article, “Talk to Real People: Values-Based Models for Wine Marketing.”


Photos courtesy of GreatWineNews, Love to Know, Vivino and WineBusiness.com.

About the Author

Meg Houston Maker, CSW, is wine and food journalist focusing on traditional foodways, artisanal food and wine production, and the intersection of nature and culture. She travels extensively to visit and taste with producers, and her freelance writing has garnered mention by The New York Times, The Daily Beast, Brain Pickings, The Kitchn, Wine Business Monthly, and other publications. She is a juried member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, a Certified Specialist of Wine, and a professional member of the French Wine Society, the Society of Wine Educators, and the Guild of Sommeliers. Meg publishes regular dispatches on her own award-winning site, Maker’s Table. Learn more at Megmaker.com or follow her on Twitter @megmaker.

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