Understanding wine consumers by Paul Waller

By | September 19, 2016


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Understanding wine consumers by Paul Waller

Wine remains an incredibly important category for bars, pubs and restaurants in the UK. In fact, it’s worth £4.2bn a year and it’s in growth. At Crown Cellars, the specialist wine and spirits division of Carlsberg UK, we continually investigate key trends to ensure we provide the best range and advice to our on-trade customers. For our most recent project, we partnered with drinks and licensed trade research experts Cardinal to conduct a wine mirror study with more than 1,000 wine consumers and 500 outlets representing a broad cross-section of the on-trade, to discover whether there is any disconnect between them.

Overwhelmingly, the research revealed that there are two groups of customers who have very different attitudes towards wine. These two groups are differentiated by generations: millennials – or those born between the 1980s and 2000s – and those over 30.

Give me choice

One thing both groups have in common is that they would like more choice. However what they want to see on a menu can differ. Millennials want a style they recognise as they enter the category, after which they’re more likely to explore and won’t have the same misconceptions as older drinkers, for example they are much more likely to try German wine. Older wine consumers are more experienced and know what they like – this group wants to see a tiered range of their favourites.

When choosing the “right” wines, there is a need to cater for these differing preferences. More than one in four millennials wanted to see more Chardonnay while almost one in five over 30s wanted to see more Cabernet Sauvignon. Our research showed that multiple retailers are particularly in tune with what consumers want and have a strong appetite to list varietals that are more reflective of current consumer trends. For example almost three times as many multiple operators were considering listing more Chardonnay and the same number for Cabernet Sauvignon. A key challenge for operators is to offer more choice without adding further complexity. This means carefully selecting a range, rather than providing a vast list that could be perceived as intimidating.

On average, customers wanted to see about 13 wines on a restaurant list, and as few as seven on a wet-led menu. In trade however, a significant number of outlets are listing many more. 49% of multi-site operators and 39% of independent free trade retailers list between 20 and 49 wines. In addition, 25% of independent free trade and 20% of multi-site operators stock more than 50 wines!


Wine is a rich and diverse category, but with this comes complexity, and the consistent message from customers of all ages was “help me navigate”. In this area, when it comes to getting the basics right, the multiple retailers stood head and shoulders above the majority of the trade with almost 100% having a wine list in place compared with wet-led independent and leased outlets where less than 60% had one.

In addition, more multiple retailers listed their wine by style, which was the number one factor for millennials when choosing a wine. By contrast there was a disconnect between multiple retailers in terms of the importance of regionality, with more than 30% placing this as their top factor for customer choice, but just 11% of millennials said this was the most important factor for them.

Consumers are more likely to try a new wine if they are offered a small taster before they buy and this can work particularly well for the over 50s who trust their own palate – 40% said this was an important factor in choosing wine. However the trade significantly underestimates the importance of tasters and, one could argue, could take some learnings from other categories such as craft beer. Less than 20% of multi-site operators saw this as an important factor.

We also questioned the trade about training and while 90% of the multi-site operators offer at least a basic level of training, less than 30% of the rest of the trade did. Interestingly, our research also showed that consumers don’t tend to ask pub staff for advice on wine. We suspect this is because, although the multiple retailers are investing time and money in training, the majority of the trade is not, so consumers are unaware that some pubs will have this knowledge. Surely there are some easy wins for multiple operators here to differentiate themselves by shouting about their wine expertise?

There were some interesting learnings from the research but the key outtakes were:

Be focused – make sure your list offers the choice your customers demand without overwhelming them
Be clear – focus on flavour and style rather than region
Be proud – make sure you highlight the fact your staff have undergone wine training and are confident and correct in their advice
Paul Waller is director of Third Party Brands at Carlsberg

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