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 (1). Less than one minute! Add to that the fact that wine buyers are overwhelmed and spoilt for choice and need to make a quick decision. So how are you able to convince the consumer to buy your wine instead of a neighbouring bottle?

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 (2). 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 (3).

A previous study divided US consumers into four groups using their level of wine knowledge as a segmentation tool (4):

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 (5). 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 (7). 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 (6). 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) (7). 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 (7):

  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. 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 (8). 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 (3). 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 (7). 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 (9).

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 (7). 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 (10). An Australian study found the presence of taste descriptors could increase the choice probability of a wine by as much as 7.4% (12). 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 (7), while unique, eye-catching and colourful features of a label are most desirable from an aesthetic point of view (8). 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 (7). 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 (13). 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 (8).

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 (1).

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).

These are only a few factors and tools to take into consideration when you are trying to establish a new market or expand your current one. This is a tough task as consumers differ in their taste and preference and demographical factors also need to be considered. Watch out for PART TWO where we will explore country by country consumer preference, including domestic and foreign markets.


  1. How does shelf information influence consumers’ wine choice? Mueller, S., Lockshin, L., Louviere, J., Francis, L., Osidacz, P., 2009.
  2. How do flavour and quality of a wine relate? Norris, L., Lee, T.
  3. Exploring consumer preferences in the United States wine market: Market segmentation applying best-worst scaling. Lewis, R.L., 2010.
  4. Redesigned wine labels and consumer preferences. Maddox, A., 2012.
  5. Consumer preferences of wine in Italy applying best:worst scaling. 4th International Conference of the Academy of Wine Business Research, 2008.
  6. The U.S. Wine Market: Facts and Figures. Vins de Provence, 2012.
  7. Identifying the correlation between demographic variables in the South African market. De Wet, P.H., 2011.
  8. Measuring preferences. Mueller, S., Osidacz, P., Francis, L., Lockshin, L.
  9. Do Chinese consumer prefer to buy imported wine?- The effect of Country-Of-Origin. Li, L., Hu, X., Jun, Z., 2006.
  10. Consumer preferences for wine attributes: a conjoint approach. Gil, J.M., Sanchez, M., British Food Journal, 99 (1), p3-11.
  11. Results of the discrete choice experiment. 2007.
  12. The relative importance of non-sensory packaging cues for purchase and market validation. Lockshin, L., Mueller, S., Osidacz, P., Francis, L.
  13. Consumers preference for wine in Spain: best-worst scaling methodology. Albisu, L.M.