Research in the US commissioned by Constellation Wines has provided a detailed analysis of different types of wine consumers, their motivations and preferences. Ben Cooper assesses what it has to say to wine marketers.

The general upward trend in wine sales across many markets and the widening of the appeal of wine means that the once typical stereotype of the wine lover - or worse still the wine snob - is, if not entirely a thing of the past, significantly less relevant today. What has replaced it, if recent research commissioned by US wine company Constellation Wines is anything to go by, is not surprisingly considerably more complex.

The research project, called Project Genome, an online survey of more than 3,500 premium wine consumers conducted in the US by Copernicus Marketing Consulting and Research, Inc., suggests that today there is no typical wine consumer. Rather, consumers fall into six unique groups with distinct attributes, motivations, preferences and behaviours.

The six consumer types are categorised as Enthusiast, Image Seeker, Savvy Shopper, Traditionalist, Satisfied Sipper and Overwhelmed. The typologies were based on responses to some 100 questions. Some of these attributes have been clearly recognised by wine marketers for some time; other segmentations are rather more illuminating.

Enthusiasts, for example, are consumers who are passionate about the complete wine experience from reading about wine to making their purchase choice and discussing wine with friends and family. There is nothing particularly new in the identification of this consumer type, but in markets such as the US and the UK they are far greater in number than ever they were. They made up 12% of the Constellation poll.

Image Seekers, on the other hand, seem to be a consumer type borne out of the growing appeal of wine, its trendiness perhaps. They are in some ways sophisticated but also "adventurous and trendy". The research indicated that these consumers - making up 20% of the survey - are just as likely to be influenced by a sophisticated label as by a fun, image-driven design. There is also a strong suggestion that they are true premium shoppers who when not sure about their choice will go for the more expensive option.

In contrast, today's premium wine market also has its more frugal contingent. The Savvy Shoppers are looking for good wine at a good price. Once again, the emergence of this category surely stems to a degree from the growing appeal of wine to a broader audience. These consumers - 15% of consumers according to the research - are not necessarily the most knowledgeable about wine but they enjoy it and know that good wines need not cost a lot of money.

Traditionalists, as the name implies, are more conservative in their wine choice, and perhaps their wine shopping experience has more in common with how the vast majority of wine consumers used to view the product. They look for a well-known and established name. However, this constituency only makes up 16% of the poll and one wonders if it is more of an ageing and diminishing group. Another consumer type is the Satisfied Sipper who looks for a sensible choice they can feel comfortable serving to friends and family. Satisfied Sippers make up 14% of the survey.

While clearly the growing popularity of wine has seen the emergence of new consumer types, this survey has a sting in the tail for wine marketers, revealing that the largest constituency are the Overwhelmed, accounting for 23% of respondents. In spite of the growing accessibility of wine and the increasing volume of information and consumer education available, these consumers find shopping for wine a dauntingly complicated business and are always worried about making a mistake. The research suggests that good shelf descriptions and advice from retail and waiting staff play a key role in their purchase decisions.

So what has the Genome Project told us about the wine market? Well perhaps the prime observation is that, as José Fernandez, president and CEO of Constellation Wines US himself has said, the premium wine market is not represented by a homogeneous consumer group. But this is not perhaps the most staggering of revelations. We have known that the market has broadened so some divergence in motivations and attitudes is to be expected.

However, in its detailed mapping of these motivations the research does undoubtedly have something new to say, though comparing it to the mapping of the Human Genome may be slightly over-egging the case! One imagines and hopes that this is a light-hearted comparison and was designed to give the project a catchy name which would grab column inches.

"These findings give us a dramatic, new level of understanding into consumers' wine preferences and needs - and represent bold new opportunities for the US wine industry to be more relevant to our consumers," Fernandez said. "Just as the Human Genome Project was about understanding the DNA of the human body, we named our research study Project Genome because we wanted to elevate our understanding of premium wine consumers."

Constellation Wines has of course been generous in sharing its wisdom with the wider wine community, not to mention its competitors. Sceptics would suggest that such largesse indicates there is little in this research which is so revolutionary as to give a company a true competitive edge. That may be rather harsh, but it has to be said that many of these purchase patterns have been identified before.

Nevertheless, the findings do represent an interesting and cogent analysis of today's wine consumer franchise, particularly as it has evolved during a time of significant expansion and change in the wine market. It will certainly be of value to marketers across the entire wine industry, including smaller companies which would never be able to afford to conduct such research.

For that reason perhaps, Fernandez' claim that it "will benefit consumers by providing insight that will help make wine more accessible and approachable", bringing winemakers, retailers and restaurateurs closer to their consumers, has some justification.