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Study sheds light on SA consumers' attitudes towards wine

| Wine and liquor

South African wine consumers share similar perceptions about wine across different ethnic groups. This is according to research by Dr. Carla Weightman that focuses on the perceptions of local consumers towards wine.

Dr. Weightman received her PhD (Wine Biotechnology) in the Faculty of AgriScience at Stellenbosch University on this subject on 20 March 2018.

The project was done in the research programme of Dr. Hélène Nieuwoudt, senior researcher at the Institute for Wine Biotechnology, which focuses on consumer and sensory aspects of South African wine. Weightman’s study is the first of its kind to focus on understanding the changed landscape of local wine consumers in a cross-cultural way.

In the past, the local wine industry has mostly focused on the export market. However, it has identified growing the domestic market as a priority. South Africa has a very low per capita wine consumption when compared to other wine-producing nations. The local wine market has also changed over the last two decades and faces stiff competition from other alcoholic beverages, mainly beer. The wine industry is now aiming to become more consumer-driven to increase wine consumption.

Weightman’s study focuses on the two most significant wine-consuming population groups in the country, namely urban black and white wine drinkers. Historically, the white consumer group was the largest group of wine drinkers, but black consumers now account for approximately 80% of the wine consumers in the country. Yet little research has gone into investigating the changing nature of local wine consumers and their perceptions of wine.

The deciding factors
It appears wine is associated with status and sophistication, appearance, celebration, relaxation, and food. Weightman explains: “The fact that wine is consumed with food is what seems to be the driving force differentiating wine from other alcoholic beverage categories. While not surprising, these results emphasise the importance of consumers’ motivations, and the industry should focus its attention on these ideas. As consumers’ socio-demographics become similar, so do their wine perceptions and preferences.”

Weightman used focus groups to get a better understanding of consumers’ perceptions, style preferences, the context of enjoyment, buying and consumption patterns, and journeys towards wine consumption. She developed a questionnaire to investigate motivations for wine consumption on a larger scale and focused on urban consumers living in Gauteng. Weightman also compared consumers’, trained assessors’ and industry professionals’ sensory perceptions of wine and looked at the influence of cultivar name on consumer liking.

Overall, motivations for drinking wine between the different consumer segments studied were similar. The social aspects, sensory appeal and ethical concern factors were the three most important motivational determinants for consumers’ wine choices. “Observed differences mainly occurred between male and female consumers. With regards to ethnicity, this study did not reflect a large distinction between the different ethnic groups,” Weightman remarks.

In South Africa, approximately 56% of the wine-drinking population is female, and they seem to drink more wine on a broader set of occasions than their male counterparts, who make up only around 43% of the wine-consuming population.

Wine is usually the first choice alcoholic beverage for females on most occasions. Males will generally choose to drink beer or whiskey first but will drink wine when it accompanies a meal. Females from both cultural groups tended to start consuming wine on a more regular basis earlier in life than their male counterparts. Younger males of both cultural groups drink mostly beer and spirits (whiskey).

The most significant influence on wine consumption is the context in which it is consumed. The second key factor is the venue where the consumption will take place, and the third factor is whether a meal is involved. Ultimately, the deciding factor in consumer choices about wine is related to their budget, according to the study.

Another context where wine consumption differs is at home. Female participants mentioned that they often have a glass of wine when they get home to help them relax after a stressful day. For males, wine consumption was strongly linked to social occasions. This finding is not limited to wine but has also been found to be true for beer consumption.

An emerging trend amongst black consumers, both male and female, is the idea of matching your meal and your wine to enhance the eating experience. According to the study, it seems that black consumers are more conscious and interested in keeping up with current trends and brands than their white counterparts.

Red wine considered superior to white wine
Interestingly, red wine is considered to be superior to white wine. People are also willing to spend more money on red wine than white wine, and especially if the bottle has a cork. Consumers also believe wine with a cork ‘tastes different’ to wine with a twist cap but could not describe exactly how the taste differed.

Although the black consumer group had a relatively delayed start to their wine consumption, their motivations for drinking wine and perceptions about it do not seem to differ significantly from that of their white counterparts.

Barriers to consumption
‘Barriers’ in terms of consumption etiquette and unspoken rules were identified as possible reasons preventing broader wine consumption. To some degree, it is also these barriers that differentiate wine from other alcohol categories. Weightman explains: “This is a bit of a catch-22 when it comes to increasing wine consumption in South Africa. Although the industry would like to see an increase in consumption and make wine more accessible, the elite status of the product is what makes wine appealing. This leads to the question: if everyone starts drinking wine, could it lose its appeal?”

The study contributes towards a better understanding of local consumers’ perceptions of wine and also highlights directions for future studies. There are a few spin-off projects currently being done by the Institute for Wine Biotechnology, targeting specific segments of the local wine consumer population.

The project was funded by the National Research Foundation, Department of Science and Technology, Winetech and the Institute for Wine Biotechnology.

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