A Revolution is Needed


A Revolution is Needed to Bring More People to Wine

The wine industry is in the midst of good times. Due to the good times the wine industry has again begun to ask a very important question:

“How can we get more people to drink wine?”

This is a very different question than the more frequently asked, “How can we get people to drink wine more often?” or “How can I get more people who drink wine to drink mine?” Good times bring self-evaluation, and the wine industry has finally focused on the first question above.

The answer, most pundits respond, is by advertising. Other industry models are held up as examples to emulate: the milk industry (“Got milk?”), the beef industry (“It’s what for dinner tonight.”), the pork industry (“The other white meat.”) and even the egg industry (“25% less cholesterol!”). Advertising has been notably successful for them, so the wine industry should get aboard. Especially with TV advertising.

While some individual wineries, usually the larger ones, have taken the lead and advertised beyond industry and consumer wine magazines, most wineries are either too timid to do any or are too economically limited to be able to advertise in a meaningful way. Print, radio and especially TV advertising is very expensive. It is difficult to analyze the success of advertising as well without substantial marketing resources, making ad expenditures that much more risky for most wineries.

The wine industry has rallied to start an industry campaign based on the slogan, “Wine. What are you saving it for?” Like the milk industry advertising campaign, it will be with a humorous bent and be on TV as well as in print. Having not seen the campaign I cannot comment on it in particular. The wine industry should advertise, but I don’t think advertising goes far enough to address some very real reasons why people don’t drink wine. To reach out and really touch someone with a wine glass, a revolution needs to take place within the industry at the fundamental level of the product.

Research indicates that 90% plus of the wine bought today will be consumed within the next twenty-four hours. As an industry, we encourage the responsible adult to enjoy wine with food in moderation every day. But, as an industry, we don’t package wine to be enjoyed immediately. Despite jug-size bottles with screw caps, bag-in-a-boxes, small (325 mL) bottles in six-packs with screw caps and wine coolers, the overall thrust in the wine industry is to market and sell the 750 mL glass bottle.

Two issues with this are size and glass. The Wine Institute conducted a survey among “Generation X” alcohol consumers a few years back, and one of their issues preventing new young buyers from enjoying wine was the 750 mL size. For their life style, the beer bottle was a perfect fit.

In the late 80s, the wine industry flirted with a new bottle size, the 500 mL. It bombed. The 325 mL bottle has been around for ages but many think it is too small, not allowing two people to enjoy two good-size glasses each. The 500 mL bottle was the industry solution. A quick look at how people consume beverages would have immediately shown the error of that thinking.

There are many reasons why wine coolers were so successful: slightly sweet (Americans like sweet), had a screw cap, great advertising and came in 12 oz sizes. A lot of wineries wrote off the wine cooler success to the sweet taste and great advertising. But beer is not sweet. It does have great advertising, but America’s favorite alcoholic beverage in majority comes in 12 oz servings with screw caps or pull tabs, and are marketed in six-packs. Coke comes in 12 oz servings. 7-Up. Snapple. Why not chardonnay? Merlot? White zinfandel?

Back to the Gen Xers; they spoke of the difficulty of having to buy a bottle and use a glass at a party, or finish a whole bottle in a restaurant (many states do not allow a consumer to take the unfinished portion with them). And because it was a bigger bottle than 12 oz, they generally complained that it cost more than beer. It wasn’t a good value. A six-pack is 72 oz, and most cost under ten dollars. A wine bottle is about 23 oz. The 12 oz / six-pack packaging would promote off-premise sales to younger, newer consumers.

I don’t think that wineries need worry about restaurant sales with alternate formats. If good wine was sold by-the-glass from a bag-in-a-box (i.e., wine on tap), wine sales would go up. Plenty of patrons buy bottled beer in restaurants, so I think 12 oz bottles of chardonnay would also sell well. Plus, all wait staff would know how to open and serve it!

Another issue, maybe less important, is the use of glass as a container. For the 90% plus wine that is being drunk right now why not use plastic? Especially if it is in a 750 ml bottle or bigger. I wouldn’t want to age my Opus One in plastic for the next ten years necessarily but, then again, some grades and types of plastic are harder and more durable than glass. What anguish when that aged red slips from the hand and cracks open on the floor … . Maybe glass is not that necessary. Plastic would bring costs down and be lighter to ship and carry. Most plastic is recyclable. Other than the aesthetics of glass (which, I admit, I love), plastic may be a better solution. Plus, think of the packaging experimentation one can do with molds to create textures and colors!

More than advertising, I think the wine industry needs to take a hard look at how people buy and enjoy their favorite beverages without traditions and history interfering. The way wine is packaged and sold may inhibit its purchase no matter how much advertising is thrown at a consumer. By giving up traditions, the wine industry can play on a more even playing field against the other beverage industries for the consumers’ dollars.

The revolution has yet to begin. More daring ideas on the way … .