It is a question that many wine marketers or consumer psychologists would love to crack. There is anecdotal evidence that young adults tend to start with lighter and sweeter styles and then move to more flavourful or “complex” wines. Researchers from Sonoma State University conducted the first studies aiming at comparing the evolution of wine drinking patterns between generations, focusing especially on Millenials or Gen Ys (Thatch and Olsen, 2006; Olsen et al. 2007). They found that Millenials (19-34 y.o.) and Traditionalists (65 y.o.+) started experimenting with red wines, while the other two groups started with sweeter wines. Contrary to Generation X (35-45 y.o.) or even Baby Boomers (46-65 y.o.), Millenials drank wine mainly with food. Being at their early stage of wine experience, they tended to try different wine styles and did so mainly with imported wines. These data were collected through face to face interviews of 110 college students (2006 paper) and on line with 5000+ respondents (2007 paper). Both approaches collected information self reported by participants, which have been found a reliable method especially for alcoholic beverages. However these studies did not tackle the difficult question: how do we move our wine preferences from simple to complex and what are the drivers of these changes? One approach would be to conduct a longitudinal study following a cohort of respondents from their legal drinking age to mature adulthood: quite time consuming and expensive solution.
An attempt to capture lifetime wine consumption patterns:
In a recent publication, Melo et al. are discussing and proposing techniques designed to aid consumption recall to measure the evolution over time of wine preferences. Here is what they came up with.
The basis of their methodology is to use ‘life grid’ templates as an aid for recalling events that have marked the society, the family history, or more personal milestones such as a moving to different residences/locations or the employment history. This structured format was described as ‘a natural organizing framework for the large amount of data to be collected’.
Fifty-one social wine drinkers from Australia were recruited to participate in this study requiring two one on one interviews of one hour duration, 4 weeks apart. The need for 2 sessions was to determine the validity of the methodology; in other circumstances only one session would be enough.
Prior to the first interview, respondents were asked to fill out these life grid templates. Then on site they were asked to define their lifetime drinking history: basically one had to divide his/her life into ‘drinking phases’ and report for each the frequency of alcoholic beverage consumption, the quantity, the type of beverage and type of wine. They also answered questions about any changes in socio-demographics during these lifetime phases. The interview ended by a belief evaluation to determine the main associations respondents make for different types of consumption, the reasons and occasions for such consumption. Finally, current consumption habits were recorded.
Respondents were mostly middle aged elderly, having consumed alcoholic beverages for 39 years. In average, they defined 5 drinking phases in their drinking history, which lasted about 8 years each. The rest of the publication examines the internal consistency of the measures proposed by the authors and the validity of the methodology. Authors concluded that the measures were reproducible over time, inconsistencies being observed only on items less frequently consumed by respondents.
Why could such a survey tool be useful?
Often I am asked how do we move consumers from “fruit forward wines to more complex in flavor wines”. This methodology could offer some insights in the understanding of factors that could favor this type of consumption evolution. The main interest of the ‘life time method’ is to correlate life changing events with consumption changes. This type of information would help marketers design strategies to orient consumers in their wine choices as their lives evolve and mature. What would be interesting too would be to produce a ‘life grid’ for the wine industry history, highlighting critical events that have changed the type or style of products. Think screw caps or Tetrapak® packaging or single serve bottles. How these changes impacted consumer consumption patterns? What about cultural factors? Would we find similar patterns in traditional wine drinking countries versus new ones?
This methodology opens avenues for understanding how consumers transition their consumption patterns and wine preferences, and of course for validating the anecdotal evidences mentioned in the introduction of this post.
Personally, my move to California in 1997 restructured my whole concept of Chardonnay wines and I started to explore other wine styles to please my palate!
What about you? What are the critical phases in your life history which have changed your wine consumption habits?
- Melo L., Delahunty, C., Forde C., and Cox D.N. Development and validation of a tool to recall alcoholic beverage and wine consumption over consumers’ lifetimes, Food Quality and Preference, 2010. 21: p. 697-704.
- Melo L., Colin, J., Delahunty, C., Forde C., and Cox D.N. Lifetime wine drinking, changing attitudes and associations with current wine consumption: a pilot study indicating how experience may drive current behavior. Food Quality and Preference, 2010. 21: p. 794-790.
- Olsen, E.J., L. Thach, and N. Nowak, Wine for My Generation: Exploring How U.S. Wine Consumers are Socialized to Wine. Journal of Wine Research, 2007. 18(1): p. 1-18.
- Thach, E.C. and J.E. Olsen, Market segment analysis to target young adult wine drinkers. Agribusiness, 2006. 22(3): p. 307-322.