Yesterday, South Africa’s wine industry celebrated its 363rd birthday, commemorating the first wine made from grapes grown in the country on 2 February 1659.
There’s no doubt that over the centuries, the industry has grown in leaps and bounds, from how wine is produced, bottled, to even how it is manipulated in the cellar. And as the wine industry has changed, so has its consumer.
According to Xania van der Merwe, consumer consultant at KURK, while wine trends are a difficult prediction to make without solid research to build on, they are definitely seeing more travellers in tasting rooms.
“[This} makes me think that South Africa had enough of sitting at home and is looking forward to ‘normal’ wine tastings and travels. On social media, the ‘where do you recommend we go for…’ question regularly pops up on wine groups,” Van der Merwe tells Food For Mzansi.
KURK conducts sales and marketing for a few brands, and over the last few months they have seen a shift in sales behaviour.
Online sales will boom
In terms of online, they can see that consumers are planning their wine purchases, and therefore do not mind waiting for their wines to arrive.
“Online sales [are] growing. Producers without a platform to support online trading should make this their main focus. Producers should also grow their partnerships with online wine retailers and invest in visual marketing: videos, visual taste notes, social marketing driving direct sales,” she advises.
Sharing Van der Merwe’s sentiments is Carmen Stevens, the owner of Carmen Stevens Wines.
“After Covid-19 people realised that they can buy online. Suddenly there was no reason to shop at retailers or wine farms if you wanted a bottle of wine. This is a trend that will continue to grow throughout 2022 and beyond, because wine lovers have realised that they can get quality wines without the high mark-up prices when buying at a retail outlet or restaurant.”
Stevens reckons that more wineries will be adopting apps to enable online buying that’s more convenient for their consumers.
Conscious wine drinkers
Furthermore, when it comes to sustainability and the conscious consumer, Van der Merwe says consumers are showing an interest in healthy living and the environment.
“Is this a vegan wine?” is a regular question posed to wine estates. It is however important to note that not all wines are vegan, she adds.
Regular wine consumers are purchasing less frequently, with larger volumes. “I have always grouped our direct consumers based on their wine journey: new to wine, exploring the wine category, invested wine consumers and those actively hunting the gems. We always see the invested wine consumers buying a mixed basket [including] something new in a premium price point and something well priced (often below R50), especially if they know it is a good brand, selling at a price,” she says.
Consumers are also realising that chasing after discounted wine deals is not sustainable and prefer to stock up a bit.
Van der Merwe believes that there is value in knowing your top consumers well enough to be able to pick up a phone and tell them why something is going on promotion.
“We all know things happen. The cellar is full and we urgently need to move stock to make space; labels are slightly damaged; unlabelled stock; overruns from export orders… It happens and our regular and loyal customers know it. Consumers are much more forgiving.
“If you have established a relationship, you can play open cards. You are most likely going to get even better sales if you take this approach,” she explains.
Consumers also want variety and online orders, and waiting for wine is not the biggest problem. But consumers tend to get bored with a single brand, she points out.
And black-owned wine brands?
Van der Merwe does not believe that consumers follow black-owned brands because they are owned by black people, but because of the intense passion associated with the brand and the ownership.
“Brands with black owners (or black management) or even non-traditional management for that matter, tend to worry less about what wine labels and wine marketing should look like. They worry more about the wine labels their audience would like and use the marketing channels their audience would respond to,” she says.
According to Stevens web tastings is one of the wine trends that played a big role in new brands being recognised and will continue to do so.
This innovative way of tasting wines, Stevens says, gave consumers access to their winemakers and an opportunity to meet the faces behind new brands.
“Unrecognised brands suddenly got more exposure and consumers took note of brands that they had overlooked or never heard of before. People realised that it is possible to access the same quality wine found in a restaurant, straight from the seller, only at a lower price tag.”
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