After a warm and relaxing 3-day weekend in Paris (Labor Day weekend), I’m back to work and thinking about wine consumers. While France was resting, American wine professionals gathered in Napa Valley to attend the Direct to Consumer Symposium. As reported in winesandwines.com article, several interesting points came up as far as consumers buying direct are concerned.
Who are the wine consumers?
– Wine consumers are not all readers of Wine and Food or the Wine Enthusiast: they are also readers of Wired and Game Pro. Why? Because they are tech-savvy and buy on line as well as in tasting rooms and by wine clubs. There are more Hispanics and Asian-Americans than a few years ago and they have a higher income than the average buyer.
What channels do they use to buy direct?
– Direct-to-consumer sales increased by 30% from 2005 to 2006. In 2007, consumer direct sales grew only 7.4%.
– Wineries’ tasting rooms saw a rapid 21.2% increase in sales in the second half of 2007, while a third channel, winery wine clubs, fell 10.3%, due to the economical uncertainties and the obligation of paying every 2 or 3 months $35 to 100, depending on the club.
This drop of interest for wine clubs is a very important one as, when I interviewed several wine clubs owners in the last semester of 2007 for Wine Brands, they were very optimistic and very positive on their business model. Indeed, on the consumer side, there is no shopping, no delivery problem, full refund guarantee in case of corked or damaged bottles, access to wines difficult to find or not available on the shelf, no distributor, no middleman and the best choice of wine at the lowest possible price, savings on normal retail price and very often a beautiful catalog full of fun information and tips. Extra bonus: “the research and work have been done for the consumer”, explains Gerri-Lynn Becker, Marketing Director of the California Wine Club. “The task of selecting a good wine is daunting and confusing. With the right wine club, the member can be guaranteed of quality, great taste and convenience. And may be even introduced to a wine or a winery that’s little known.”
On the winery side, being selected by a good wine club like California Wine Club is a major asset. “We only feature wines from small, real working wineries”, explains Gerri-Lynn. “Most of the wineries we feature don’t produce enough to reach mass distribution. There is a real-live family behind each wine and we introduce their story and passion to our members.”
This brings a totally different dimension to the relationship between the Club, the winery and the member, creating an emotional link between them and benefiting the club as the provider of a very enjoyable experience. “We bring the romance of wine country to the members”, confirms Gerri-Lynn. “By getting to know the who/what/where of each wine, it makes the experience more personal and wine even better.”
Wine clubs like the California Wine Club are highly popular in the USA and have a wide range of customers – from neophytes to connoisseurs. For Gerri-Lynn, “they all seem to have something in common: they like the adventure of trying something new and trust us.” Their behavorial patterns are subject to change but they are still “typical of the industry. For example 10 years ago, no one was drinking Bordeaux blends… yet now they’re quite popular! And this past year we’re seeing a big push towards Rhone-style wines. Also we’ve noticed over the years that more customers are sending gifts of wine. Even corporate gift givers are breaking away from fruit and chocolate and looking to send something more unique and exciting.”