Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Confidence = Consumption

Wine consumers are a curious lot and wine experts are even curiouser (?). What do people really want fer christsake? Why do they like the wines they like, and why don’t we all agree on what is, or isn’t, quality and value? Pretty simple, really – we are all different. The question seems to be, “how different are we, what are these differences and what does it matter?”

And it turns out it is our (the wine trade and experts) relative ignorance of taste sensitivity and basic human behavior that is making millions of potential wine consumers feel intimadated and lose confidence in their ability to enjoy "sophisticated" wines. After a year of survey development, collection and data crunching Dr. Virginia Utermohlen, MD and I are excited to announce we are one step closer to a solution!

One of the fascinating things that came out of the data we have been looking at from our just-concluded wine consumer research project, conducted in conjunction with the Consumer Wine Awards at Lodi is that “confident consumers are consuming consumer.” And the most confident consumers are a phenotype we categorize from our research as Tolerant tasters: they are physiologically predisposed to love red wines. They want red wines regardless of occasion or meal. They can tolerate lots of intensity, bitterness, tannin and high levels of alcohol. They know what they like and how to get at it.

The least confident segment? Those we categorize as Sweet and Hyper-sensitive who are physiologically predisposed to abhor the wines favored by the Tolerant crowd. And here is where this matters: the disenfranchised consumers of light wines, sweet or dry, are 6 times more likely to be embarrassed about the wines they drink and 10 times more likely to drink wine less than once a month than a Tolerant consumer. There is a clear-cut correlation between taste sensitivity, confidence and wine consumption. And don't you think for a second they are not drining - they are over at the bar slurping down the appletinis, cosmos and myriad other drinks where they are not punished and stigmatized for having more taste buds!

I propose that this is an amazing opportunity for the wine industry and we really need to address the issues that keep so many consumers, at all levels of interest and participation, so overwhelmed and confused. And with the enormous range of products and differing opinions from wine experts, is it any wonder?

With over 80,000 wines in the US market alone the vast majority of wine consumers are confused, intimidated and overwhelmed - even stigmatized for their wine preferences. And 'wine education' as it is presented today, only makes matters worse in many cases. Wine experts, writers and bloggers argue over wine characteristics that are clearly perceived differently and this is directly related to the range and intensity of sensations we are physiologically capable of experiencing.

The battle is raging once again in the blogosphere even as we speak – "what defines ‘balance’?" for a 'taste' of the argument go to my pal Joe Robert's site: 1WineDude. The answer lies in understanding your sensitivity quotient and how this affects your personal experience (range and intensity of sensations) of wine flavors. Your taste sensitivity combined with your unique, ever-changing neural programming over time as a result of culture, society, learning, experience and aspirations and voila! - YOUR personal preferences. Throw on top of this an understanding of OTHER people's sensitivities and holy moly - no more arguing, just get that it can be radiaclly different one person to the next.

A Sufi Parable Revisited (also see my post 3 Blind Men and a Wine )
Three blind bloggers were asked to taste a high-scoring Napa Cabernet and describe the balance of fruit, oak and alcohol of the wine to a universe of spectators. The first blind man was a hyper-sensitive taster with over ten thousand taste buds, the next a sensitive taster with 2,000 buds and the third a tolerant taster with somewhere around 500 taste papillae. All were wine lovers, passionate and oh so knowledgeable, but they were unaware of their physiological sensory equipment and radically differing perception. Each of them tasted the wine and spoke in turn:

Yech, this wine is horrible – the jammy fruit, burning alcohol, excessive oak – how can anyone drink an unbalanced, over-the-top wine like this? It would ruin any meal,” said the first blind blogger.

The second blind blogger weighed in, “This wine is representative of the style I have grown tired of – have learned to seek wines of greater finesse and that is why I joined the Anything But Cabernet movement.”

“Ah, nirvana!” quote the third expert. “Full, rich and powerful; smooth and hedonistically satisfying with a sweet fruit core. 95 points!”

The spectators looked on in confusion. Bewildered, they silently wondered which of these mavens was right – what should they look for, how on earth should they make decisions and who could they turn to so they could make a smart buying decision? It was as if each of the blind bloggers were feeling up the same elephant and describing it as either a snake, a tree trunk and a rope.

FYI, for anyone in the wine trade (or interested in general) interested in the results of the study Dr. Virginia Utermohlen and I have been working on we are releasing our full report titled Wine Consumer Segmentation: Beverage preferences, Attitudes, and Behaviors for purchase. If you are in wine production, marketing and/or communications you can learn more about the study and place your order today at THIS LINK. We will be delivering the report electronically this Friday, December 10, 2010.

A copy of our free summary report can be downloaded at http://www.timhanni.com/. It is a comparison of the Sweet and Tolerant phenotype groups and chock full of great information. The summary provides a thumbnail look at the background and format of the information that is available in the full report. The full report covers all four segments we have identified and slices and dices the data in detail calling out opportunities for strategically marketing to ALL consumers who choose wine in a more powerful and targeted manner.


Todd - VT Wine Media said...

Excellent...I'll look forward to looking at the study details. One more argument for the investment in basic consumer education.

Give a man a wine, he'll drink it that night.
Teach a man to taste (for himself), and he can shop forever.

Mark T said...

To a certain extent, if wine drinkers understand more, gain more confidence they will (usually) drink more wine.

Once individual start to grasp the basics they seem to be hungry to learn more and hence enjoy themselves more when they do drink wine.

Tim Hanni MW said...

Hi Mark,

What we are finding is that what we call "the basics" is often very flawed material and missing a vital component of understanding differences in our sensory physiology. Indeed, our hope that "as people grasp the basics..." is part of the problem, not the solution, and in fact the source of confusion, intimidation and disenfranchisement for a huge part of the market.

This is what this work is all about.

Anonymous said...

An interesting article that indirectly opens the door to Sweet and Hyper-Semsitive tasters for the main course at dinner with a quality sweet wine


Wine-Know said...

Education is key to confidence. There is a great need for wine consumers, especially wine novices, to be able to understand wine ratings, wine reviews, and wines gone bad.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tim,

Fascinating reading. I'm a lowly wine blogger myself, reviewing wines under $20 and just trying to make the people in my general orbit (and hopefully others), feel more confident and opinionated about wine. Most people could go on for days about what they are against when it comes to politics, but never about what they are for. With wine, it seems most people are uncomfortable discussing either. They are immediately embarrassed to know anything, which I understand having been the same way for years. Such is the state of a large portion of American society. To be knowledgeable beyond the basics you learn in organized education is to step out of the jet stream and head in a different direction. You leave the pack, you are isolated and vulnerable. Simple as that. What many people do not realize is that there are no new packs forming, no progress, no change for the better. Thus, the current wine industry. I'm definitely going to check out your report summary and look forward to reading your site more.