Distribution and consumption habits are changing in the United States


At an economic level, the strong increase in value is mainly due to the reopening of bars and restaurants, to the detriment of sales for domestic consumption. Structurally, several analysts agree that the wine sector does not focus enough on recruiting new consumers and the unprecedented competition exerted by spirits. Dutch bank Rabobank summarizes the main factors impacting the US wine sector in five ‘C’s: Covid, consumers, channels, (supply) chains and competitors. If the former remains unpredictable, the others are part of the underlying trends. For example, only 32% of American adults drink wine, a percentage that rises to 25% among those aged 20-29. Wine drinkers are also predominantly non-Hispanic whites, pointing out, as Dr. Liz Thach points out in a Forbes editorial, the lack of recruiting consumers from other ethnic and cultural groups. At the same time the spirits aggressively take advantage of new consumption opportunities and engage with a diverse consumer audience spanning all age groups notes Rabobank, which also cites the rise of cocktail culture and the positive cultural references associated with spirits (through television series like Mad Men or Boardwalk Empire).

Boundaries between beverage categories are blurring

Add to that the loss of power of the wine category in a distribution circuit that has long dominated: e-commerce. According to Rabobank, the share of wine in online sales of alcoholic beverages is 62% (72% in 2018) against less than 25% in physical stores. E-commerce accounts for 10.9% of US wine sales, compared to 3.1% for spirits and 1.5% for beer. Here too, spirits are beginning to invade this domain of wines, now being referenced, for example, on large sites such as Wine.com, not to mention the ongoing regulatory initiatives aimed at authorizing the direct sale of spirits. For Gabe Barkley, CEO of importer MHW, the evolution of online sales actually reflects a greater nomadism between the categories of alcoholic beverages among consumers: only 17% of them drink only wine. Citing the accelerating involvement of BRSA brands such as Pepsi and Coca Cola in the alcoholic beverage sector, the importer believes that this phenomenon is leading to a profound change in distribution channels, merchandising policies and the supply chain. ” Consumers are now looking for products that match their wine style and their changing perception of alcohol has been driven by technology, changing demographics and e-commerce. “.

Think about distribution systems other than the three tiers

Rabobank goes further: “ Will e-commerce replace the CHR circuit? In a few years, the cellars’ turnover generated by online sales will be equal to or even higher than their activity at CHR “, she warns. And to add: E-commerce is the most powerful tool the wine industry has to encourage discovery and tell your story. ” with young consumers, “ i.e. the target he worries about has lost contact “. For Gabe Barkley, e-commerce ” It’s a very good way to focus on your access to the US market. We have to think about other systems besides three thirds, there are other solutions. You have to choose your platforms according to what you want to accomplish. Do we want a market function or do we want to acquire data, for example?. This, knowing that e-commerce serves as a gateway to other circuits.

The quest for authenticity, a boon for French wines

For France, the MHW company is quite optimistic. ” Since lifting punitive customs duties, France has recovered well », welcomes Steve Melchiskey, president of importer USA Wine West, acquired in late 2021 by MHW. ” Bordeaux had a record year in 2021 adds Helen Gregory, founder of marketing agency Gregory + Vine. This French dynamism can be explained, not only by the lifting of customs duties, but also by the demand for authenticity expressed by consumers in a post-Covid world. ” Big brands did well during the pandemic because they had the ability to secure supplies and shelf presence. explains Steve Melchiskey. ” On the contrary, typical and regional products suffered because their promotion depends heavily on dinners attended by winemakers or masterclasses. Now consumers will return to the human factor and authenticity of products, and retailers want to be able to offer something exciting to their customers. “.

reasons for hope

For 2022, analysts and importers agree that these trends will continue, creating opportunities at multiple levels for exporters. It is true that rising inflation and logistical difficulties” that should not begin to resolve until the third or fourth trimester according to MHW, headwinds are raising in the US market, as elsewhere. But greater consumer openness, access to new markets, sustainable development, the wellness trend (non/low, organic), the rise of women and ethnic minorities, and premiumization are all bearers of opportunity for the wine sector.

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