Napa Valley is alive and well.

Napa Valley is alive and well.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Wine Buyer Types - What and Why They Buy

 Constellation Wines is the world’s largest wine and spirits company. Some of its better known 200+ wine, beer and spirits brands are Robert Mondavi, Ravenswood, Blackstone, Clos du Bois, Kim Crawford, St. Pauli Girl, Corona, Hardys and Tsingtao. In 2008, Constellation released its findings from the second part of its massive consumer research project that analyzed America’s wine buying habits. Project Genome, as it was modestly titled, analyzed “attitudes, motivations, purchasing habits, consumption, and leisure activities” as they related to wine purchases.

The first phase, released in 2005, established the framework for segmenting wine buyers into various classes. The latest phase tracked 10,000 voluntary wine buyers over an 18 month period—through virtually all available retail purchasing outlets—using a home scanner to record all their wine purchases. On line interviews were also used to supplement the data base of information. Based on those research efforts, the studies concluded that premium wine buyers—those not buying jug or low-end boxed wine buyers—can be classified into six unique, buyer-type categories: Overwhelmed, Savvy Shopper, Image Seeker, Traditionalist, Satisfied Sipper and Enthusiast.


Overwhelmed Shoppers simply cannot deal with the wine buying experience. There are too many options on the shelves, and this creates a fretful, intimidating experience for them. Lacking basic wine knowledge, they need substantial assistance, but may find it too confusing even if it’s offered. Even with or without such assistance, these shoppers either pick the prettiest label or leave the store empty handed. (This group accounted for 23 % of the sample, the largest, but sadly only 13 % of the study’s purchases.)

Those who feel that low prices are most important when selecting wines are Savvy Shoppers. They visit various outlets, coupons and sales literature in hand, to ferret out the best deal. Whatever current bargains are touted in store displays are what comprise their main purchases. Two Buck Chuck might well be their “house wine.” When dining out, the restaurant’s inexpensive house wine is the typical choice, because higher prices seldom equate to higher quality or increased enjoyment for them. (Savvies comprised 15 % of the study’s consumers as well as 15 % of wine purchases.)

But being partial to higher priced wines is just how the Image Seekers typically select wines. Wine is a status symbol for them—it and other marketing symbols define who they are. At an average age of 35—one of the youngest groups—they only have a basic knowledge of wine, but they are heavily influenced by lifestyle messages and high prices, both of which are used to impress friends. Being sophisticated and trendy is important to them, and when bottle-to-bottle comparisons fail, the decision tips toward the higher priced one. The more expensive, of course, must be better. (The segment accounted for 20% of the total and 24 % of the total purchases.)

Traditionalists, on the other hand, take the safe route. They buy the same basic varietals, from the same producers—well-known, established companies who have not let them down. They seek out retail outlets that offer a familiar assortment from such companies. Since they seldom stray from their favorites, trying something new or unique is not their strong point. They enjoy entertaining, but prefer eating in rather than dining out. (Traditionalists were 16% of the study and 15% of total wine purchases.)

Somewhat related, but slightly different, are the Satisfied Sippers. They could care less about the various grape varietals or appellations, or anything else that goes beyond that sensible, domestic brand that they unwaveringly buy. Why bother, they know what they like, and are satisfied with it. Wine is simply a basic beverage, and they buy most of it from warehouse and club-type locations. Food and wine pairing? What’s that all about? Not particularly enamored with the wine shopping experience, they seldom try anything new or different, and usually buy 1.5 liter bottles so they won’t have to shop often. (Sippers totaled 14% of the study.)

Enthusiasts, the sixth and final category, are very knowledgeable and particularly passionate about the entire subject of wine. They study and explore wine’s global aspects—often sharing their discoveries with their wine drinking friends. Well off financially, they enjoy a comfortable lifestyle whether in the city, suburb or country setting. Enthusiasts' collections often include “daily drinkers” as well as “weekend” or “special occasion” wines. They enjoy browsing in wine stores, scanning wine publications and Internet sites, and they “appreciate and understand sophisticated wine information.” That knowledge drives their wine purchases. Wine might well be their hobby. (Enthusiasts were 12 % of the study, but they made 25%, the largest, of all purchases.)

Lastly, even though a six-way classification may generalize the motivations that underlie what you and I pour into our stemware, it is instructive to see the variety of attitudes and inclinations that trigger wine purchases. I’m of the opinion that wine enthusiasts—of all passion levels—display a wide range of buying behavior. In that sense, I see myself as a satisfied sipping traditionalist who is savvy enough not to be overwhelmed while enthusiastically ferreting out those marked-down, image-laden wines that represent fantastic values. How about you?

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