Introduction

In an observation of wine shoppers in Australia, it was found that consumers spent an average of less than one minute in front of the shelf, a total of approximately four minutes browsing in the store and only a minority of shoppers spent up to 15 minutes buying wine (20). Less than one minute! Add to that the fact that wine buyers are overwhelmed by (read spoiled for) choice AND that they want to make a quick decision and convincing a consumer to choose your product over a neighbouring bottle becomes a daunting task.

The Cambridge Business Dictionary defines consumer preference as: ‘The fact of people liking or wanting one thing more than another.’ So how do you make someone like of want your product more than your competitor’s? One way of doing it is by using preference mapping.

Preference Mapping 101:
1. Firstly, a trained sensory panel describes a wine’s specific sensory characteristics and indicate the intensity of each of these characteristics, creating a sensory profile for each in a series of wines.
2. Secondly, a representative sample of target consumers evaluate the wine, give their opinion and indicate whether they like/dislike it, as well as which wines are preferred.
3. The final step is to link the consumer preference to the sensory description of the wine.

Preference mapping allows you to identify which wine characteristics are preferred by consumers and which consumers have similar like and dislikes, which in turn allows you to identify winemaking practices that can be manipulated in order to change the sensory attributes of a specific wine so that it is preferred by a set of consumers (21). Besides indicating whether they like a product or not, consumers can provide additional information which will allow segmentation of markets based on a variety of factors, e.g. age, demographical information, gender, wine knowledge etc. Marketing segmentation allows you to divide your target market into subsections of consumers that display similar traits, likings and wants, which means you can now optimise your promotional and advertising techniques to address the needs of a particular customer segment (22).

A previous study divided US consumers into four groups using their level of wine knowledge as a segmentation tool (23):
1. wine novice: just starting to experiment
2. wine interested: drinks wine occasionally; become more curious about product
3. wine lover: drinks considerable amount of wine; interested in learning more; knows a lot about wine
4. wine connoisseur: expert; enormous amount of knowledge about wine

The factors that influence the preference and purchase behaviour of consumers are distinctly different in the different segments. It has been shown that novice consumers are more influenced by the region of origin of a specific wine, independent of the type or brand, whereas an increase in wine knowledge and expertise results in a combination of product attributes becoming more important to the consumer (9). In addition, studies in the US have shown a positive correlation between wine knowledge and wine consumption: the more a consumer knows about the wine, the higher the consumption. Men also tend to have a higher level of subjective wine knowledge, which is important when taking into account that women are responsible for 80% of the wine purchased in the USA (17). To make matters easier, two thirds of wine drinkers in the USA use the internet to get information about wine and more than 50% of all wine drinkers are on Facebook, while 25% of these also use MySpace, YouTube and Twitter (24). So reaching a consumer with targeted product, promotional or marketing information is now just a mouse click or tweet away.

There are various factors that influence the purchase behaviour of a consumer segment, including physiological factors (motivation, personality, perception, learned customer behaviour, lifestyle, values, beliefs, attitudes) and socio-cultural factors (personal influence, reference groups, family influence, social class, culture and sub-culture) (17). So besides all of these factors that influence the customer in their purchase decision, what exactly goes though the mind of a consumer when they stand in front of a shelf lined with bottles of wine as far as the eye can see?

The five steps in the purchase decision process (17):
1. Problem recognition stage: the consumer observes a discrepancy between his/her ideal and actual situation and recognises a NEED. Ideally I would like to have a bottle of wine with dinner and I don’t have one.
2. The consumer searches for information to fill the need. This is done in two ways:
a) internal search of previous experiences with products/brands. I tried this wine last time and really enjoyed it.
b) external search for information: personal sources (advice from family/friends), public sources (consumer reports, government agencies), market sources (information from seller, advertising, company websites etc.). I remember a friend mentioning that this was a really great wine.
3. The consumer assesses the value by evaluating alternative products/brands with regards to both the objective and subjective attributes of the product. But this one has a prettier label and costs less than that one.
4. The purchase decision itself: after all alternatives in the consumers’ consideration set are evaluated, the consumer chooses to purchase the brand/product with the HIGHEST PERCEIVED VALUE. I think this bottle will go well with dinner and is not too expensive.
5. The post-purchase behaviour: the consumer evaluates the purchased item, comparing it with his/her expectations and decides whether he/she is satisfied or dissatisfied. This bottle of wine went well with dinner; I enjoyed it and will buy it again.

There are various product attributes that influence consumer preference (4). These can be classified as either being extrinsic or intrinsic to the product. Extrinsic attributes are external to the product. These are the attributes consumers use to search for a product and marketers most often use to influence consumers. These include wine type (red/white etc.), cultivar, producer, brand, country of origin, region of origin, price, alcohol level, vintage, medals and awards, environmentally friendly/organic, closure, capsule, bottle (shape, size and colour) and label (style, shape and colour). Intrinsic attributes are also known as ‘experience’ attributes which are only evaluated at consumption and associated with the physical characteristics of the wine itself. These include overall taste evaluation, acidity, tannin, sweetness, flavour, off-flavour, aftertaste and complexity (4). The extrinsic attributes will play a significant role in not only convincing a consumer to choose your wine, but also creates an expectation, whereas the intrinsic attributes will ensure that he/she comes back for more if that expectation was met.

It has been found that consumers who purchase larger quantities of wine and buy wine more often are significantly more influenced by the attributes of grape variety and origin of wine. In contrast, promotional display, attractive front label and brand name carry more weight to consumers who purchase smaller amounts of wine and do so less often (22). Of the most important factors including region of origin, quality, price and grape variety, one study found that the region of origin was the most important, with consumers willing to pay more for premium priced wines if they originated from a perceived higher quality wine production area. This study also found region of origin to be more important to women than men and that consumers who prefer red wine were more influenced by this attribute than white wine consumers (17). Similarly it was found that the country of origin, together with price, were the most important factors in wine evaluation, more so than the brand. The presumption that consumers infer a product’s quality from his/her stereotyped beliefs about the country of origin, is referred to as the ‘halo effect’, which results in the origin of the wine being perceived as an indicator of quality (27).

As far as visual cues are concerned, the bottle, colour of the glass, front and back label, capsule, bottle closure and wine case performs not only practical and technical functions, but also plays a role in aesthetics and evokes emotion in a consumer (17). As for the role of packaging in consumer preference, conflicting results have been found, probably due to the fact that the importance of these attributes differ between market segments. The label is the most important piece of communication between the consumer and the marketer and while the front label piques interest, the back label supplies information, of which the most important have been shown to be taste descriptors, winery history and food pairing suggestions (28). An Australian study found the presence of taste descriptors could increase the choice probability of a wine by as much as 7.4% (5). It was found that although 57% of consumers regularly read the back label, they have trouble matching the back description to the actual taste and aroma of the wine. It was found that simple descriptions are the most helpful (17), while unique, eye-catching and colourful features of a label are most desirable from an aesthetic point of view (23). The closure method had no effect on purchase intent, but it did influence the perceived quality. This is important because there is a direct correlation between the perceived quality of a product and how much a consumer is willing to pay for it (17). While a study in 2007 in Australia found label design and visual information to be of zero importance (respondents paid attention to brand, price, region, country of origin and medals), it was proposed that visual elements probably have a strong subliminal effect on wine choice even if consumers can’t articulate it (26). This is supported in a study where the perception and quality of wine differed significantly once the label was evaluated and the wine then tasted (23).

As far as the provision of shelf information is concerned, a study of 21 Shiraz wines in Australia in 2009 found that the presence of taste descriptions increase choice of the wine by 3.9 to 15.1%. When displaying critic scores or ratings, there was a 9.8% increase in choice when as expected the scores were higher, but also if the ratings are in higher agreement. When using a 5 star rating system, researchers saw an average increase if 3.5% in preference per increase in star rating (20).

There has been a tremendous amount of research done to try and figure out what influences a consumer to pick one bottle from a shelf instead of another. Australia is leading the pack with this type of research, providing valuable information as to what exactly it is that the consumer wants. As far as the preference of ‘Old World’ countries are concerned, studies in Italy, France and Spain indicate that ‘designation of origin’, ‘vintage’, ‘it’s matching food’ and ‘I read about it’ are considered to be the most important wine attributes when consumers select a wine. In contrast, preferred wine attributes by ‘New World’ wine consumers in Australia, New Zealand and United States include ‘grape variety’, country of origin’, ‘someone recommended it’ and ‘I tasted the wine previously’. Attributes including ‘brand name’, ‘label design’, ‘price’ and ‘it won a medal or award’ have similar relevance for consumers in both segments (11).

Contents

AUSTRALIA

In Australia in 2007, a study looking at the preference of 740 consumers with regards to 16 attributes, showed that brand was the most important attribute when consumers displayed preference for a wine, followed by price, region of origin and medals or awards (4). In contrast, another Australian study in the same year, found higher loyalty towards price than any other attribute, including brand, region of origin or variety (17). So a consumer would rather choose a different brand or variety before buying a product in a different price category. As far as the provision of product information goes, consumers were more likely to choose Australian wines than American ones when provided with information about the wine regions or innovative wine production in Australia (6). In 2006 it was found that ‘someone recommending a wine’ and ‘having tasted it previously’ were key attributes to in determining consumer preference, while in=store promotion and information and attractive labels were least important (18).

USA

An American consumer survey found that the segment of consumers that preferred sweet wines, were primarily female, young, adventurous, willing to try new wines, easily embarrassed when confronted by wine authority, wanted to be engaged and their confidence built in their wine preference and they need personalised advice on wine and food pairings. In contrast, consumers who preferred a more intense type of wine style, were more likely to be male, a little older, more confident in choosing wine and wine and food pairings, while preferring dry wines that are complex, balanced and full-bodied (10). With this knowledge you can now focus marketing efforts on the consumer segment that your particular wine appeals to.

SPAIN

In a study of Spanish consumers in 2011, ‘it is matching food’ was found to be the most important attribute, followed by designation of origin, then ‘I tasted it previously’, grape variety, and country of origin. Vintage and ‘someone recommended it’ were of less importance and brand name and ‘I read about it’ were found to be not at all important and as expected, label design was the least important attribute when consumers had to choose a wine. Price was found to be unimportant when consumers were selecting premium red wines, as they expected the price to be higher and as a result paid more attention to other attributes (11).

ITALY

In 2008 it was found that direct, personal and sensorial experience are the most important attributes when consumers select a wine. Certain elements that influence the choice of consumers include attractiveness of label, variety of grapes, brand and region of origin. As expected, the impact of these attributes differ significantly depending on certain variables, of which involvement towards wine, frequency of consumption and geographical province seem to be the most influential (9).

CANADA

Using a trained panel to generate sensory attributes for 6 Canadian wines combining it with the preference data of consumers, a research group was able to identify the drivers of liking for these wines, in other words, identify which sensory attributes are responsible for a consumer liking a specific wine. For the Chardonnay wine, fruity, spicy, vanilla and oak aromas were identified, while vanilla and oak characters were drivers of liking in two red wines. When wines were evaluated in a blind tasting, two groupings of sensory characteristics were identified. When additional information of the wines was provided, a third grouping was identified. This reveals that extrinsic cues can affect the sensory experience of a consumer (14).

In a study of the most influential attributes in different countries, including Australia, UK, China, Germany and Israel, ‘I tasted the wine previously’ and ‘someone recommended it’, were always amongst the top three most influential attributes (19). This means that promotional activities allowing consumers to experience your wine before purchase could significantly influence the buying potential of your wine.

As previously mentioned, the importance of these attributes differs among market segments. Two factors that play a significant role in segmenting consumer preference are gender and age.

Gender

Women:    rate colours, images, pictures and logos higher than men
find black labels significantly more confusing, hard to read and too much information
consider wax seals an indication of freshness and foil coverings an indication of quality
more reliant on shelf information than men who read about wine at home (9)
prefer wine in medium price bracket ($10-14) while men favour %25+ bracket (17)
more consistent in wine choice whereas men are less prone to buy same wine twice (17)

Men:           prefer to know significantly more about vintage and cultivar than women
favour red wine (17)

Age

Consumers can also be segmented based on their age: traditionalists (born 1900-1944), Baby Boomers (born 1945-1964), Generation X (born 1965-1976) and Generation Y or Millennials (born 1977-2000). There are distinct differences between the purchasing behaviours of the different segments (17). Because consumers in the different segments drink wine for different reasons, a winemaker needs to understand the motivation of the consumer in order to adjust marketing strategies according to meet the desired requirements of each segment (17). While the Baby Boomers are the most significant segment in terms of purchase and consumption, Generation Y is emerging as an important segment due to their increasing buying power. This generation is growing up in a media-savvy, brand-conscious world, and an almost unlimited access to information, seeing as nearly 100% of Generation Y is connected to the Internet. This generation is displaying the largest increase in consumption compared to the other segments, making this a growing market with increasing market power (22).

Besides Generation Y that is being identified as an emerging market, China is a country ripe for the picking.

China

Due to the sheer size of the consumer base, estimated at an astonishing 200 million people, China has become a prime export target. Furthermore, the entry of China into the World Trade Organization implies drastic reductions in tax and tariffs. Even though exports to China are down, consumption figures are still on the increase, with a further increase of 54% predicted for the period of 2011 to 2015. Consumption is estimated at 300 million bottles of wine per year and nearly all red wine. As for the Chinese consumer, they prefer red wines with meals and the sweeter the better. Any arguments about the health benefits of wine are well-received and whereas everyday wine consumption is almost non-existent, the primary reason for purchase is gift-giving. Chinese consumers like to sample wines before they buy, prefer discount-stores, are impulsive buyers and have no knowledge on Chine food pairings with wine. Some of the more important drivers of liking for consumers include the price, where $10-15 per bottle is preferred, followed by the $5-10 range, prior knowledge of the wine or a recommendation, followed by in-store tastings (8). The country of origin is also very important for Chinese consumers. These consumers also prefer prestige/stately labels and show preference for brands featuring flowers, gold, animals, dragons or even cartoon characters.

While there is an absence of a wine culture in China, consumers still need and want more information pertaining to wine and health, wine etiquette and finding good value wines and the major sources of this information have been identified as consumer reports, newspaper columns and tasting experiences in-store (8). As for their taste in wine, consumers prefer sweet red wines with aromas of berries, plums and cherries, while strong wood characters are also appreciated. Preferred varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Zinfandel, as well as wines with one powerful aroma, rather than a bouquet. It is important to target those consumers that are not afraid to try new wines and enjoy the diversity of choice (8). In order to enter this market, cellars will need to produce mid-range red wine that matches Chinese food, as well as pricier red wines in elaborate packaging to address the tradition of Chinese gift-giving. In addition, having Chinese people to promote you brand will overcome both the language and culture barriers.

The SA wine consumer

The consumption per capita in South Africa is still much lower than in other producing countries and by researching the purchasing behaviour of South African consumers, it is possible to improve and understand the South African wine market (17). The average South African consumer spends approximately R200 to R299.99 per month on wine, 50% consume 1 to 12 glasses of wine per month and spend an average of R25 to R49.99 on a bottle of wine. The majority (53%) prefer red wine, with variety (40%), price (20%), origin/brand (10%), word of mouth (10%), wine awards (5%) and packaging (2%) being the most important attributes when choosing a bottle of wine. Preferred points of sale include the cellar door, liquor stores and the supermarket. A consumer survey in 2010 found that there is correlation between the purchasing behaviour of South African consumers and demographic variables. Similar to other countries, males spend on average more on a bottle of wine and had a higher wine knowledge compared to females. More males favour red wines and natural cork and consumers are willing to pay more for a bottle of red wine than white (17).

Conclusion

The only way to ensure success in the market, be it domestic or foreign, is to understand consumer preferences for wine flavours and extrinsic factors that influence purchase behaviour, consumption and repeat purchase (14). It is possible to select suitable target markets with the appropriate knowledge of consumer segments and the wine origins they prefer (12). Quality, good value and variety seem to be the most important wine features, while brand, distribution, price and extrinsic factors are better predictors of sales that the sensory characteristics of the wine (6).

It is possible to measure flavour-related chemical compounds in wine, generate descriptors with a trained panel and generate like/dislike descriptors with a consumer panel and use this information to identify what descriptors are responsible for consumer-liking and the aroma compounds responsible for them (15).