Is the female of the species more discerning than the male? A recent report of women's attitudes to wine, commissioned by Vinexpo, says they are and their purchasing power will drive the UK wine market for the next four years. But for the Bridget Jones generation, image is everything - is this good for the industry in the long-term? Elliot Lane reports

The well-worn cliché that a glass of house white will suffice "the lady" while her man binges on beer with the boys is at last dispelled by a comprehensive report on women's attitudes to wine. In fact, the popular belief is that wine served in pubs is "headache material" and should not be trusted.

Published by Mintel, on behalf of the French-based international wine show organiser Vinexpo, the report uncovers some salient points as to what influences women's drinking habits. And according to the report, the total UK wine market will grow 37% by 2005 reaching an estimated £8.5 billion ($), driven extensively by female consumers.

So does this mean the industry should change the emphasis of its marketing strategies to become more female-orientated? Familiarity of wine types is the most important factor when women determine which bottle to buy, the report said. Of the 2,000 women canvassed, 44% said they were loyal to the wine type and stick to their favourite. Women overall showed more loyalty to products than men.

"If more women are drinking wine, then it can be assumed women will push the industry"

"From a purely historical perspective, we know that men drink less wine, and if more women are drinking wine, then it can be assumed women will push the industry," said Simon Legge, Brown-Forman Wines's marketing director (Europe). "But this report is saying this is a macro-trend and as a brand marketer, I feel it doesn't cut the market into segments. When I make my diagnosis on my particular consumer and how to target them, I will be looking at reds, whites, in various price brackets and different regions which may end up 40% women and 60% male. I don't think we necessarily have to change our attitudes."

Men have traditionally made the decisions when choosing wine on the weekly shop (dropped off at the drinks aisle, dubbed the "male crèche" by retailers, while their partners get the groceries) or in the restaurant. However, wine waiters take note - the trend has now shifted to joint/group decisions with partner and friends and only 17% of women interviewed indicated that wine buying is primarily the function of someone else in their household. Some 35% of women usually buy wine as part of their main grocery shopping compared to 28% of men, the report said.

Word of mouth and prior recommendations from friends and family swayed 31% (though bad news for critics such as Oz Clarke and Malcolm Gluck, as only 14% would use the media as a reliable source); and just over a third were price-led.

Australian and French brands were the two top countries on the shopping list and brands such as Jacob's Creek and Piat D'Or were regarded as safe and reasonably priced. French wines overall were seen as old and staid, only bought if older relatives were coming for dinner while the New World attracted the most women because of flavour, quality, perceived consistency and value for money.

"New World is more accessible as a brand. Many French wines are often seen as a male preserve and in marketing terms, the Australians have created a great image. Women feel more confident when buying New World wine," said Kirsty Bridge, UK brand manager of the Argentine wine, Terrazas.

Adrian Walsh, UDV/Guinness's director of wines (Europe), said: "We don't, though maybe we should, market wine to women as a rule. That is not to say women are not targeted as part of our overall marketing strategy for Piat D'Or or Blossom Hill but we try not to make it an overt statement, directly associating femininity with drinks.

"Women do have a strong purchasing power and are often the decision-makers when it comes to shopping for the groceries. But then it is difficult to use this directly in any campaign without being condescending or sexist, so our policy would be to put a generic message across," he said.

In the spirits sector though, UDV's cream liqueur Baileys has successfully targeted women by playing on the "sensual" advertising theme involving men and women. Could it be replicated for Piat D'Or? "Interesting point, but we don't have an above-the-line budget or resources. The Baileys team has spent a lot of time and money getting the right information and focus on its consumer. We don't have that above-the-line presence, only occasionally would we put the odd advertisement in a magazine," said Walsh.

"In Australia, younger drinkers are not interested in drinking wine at all"

Piat D'Or has been recently re-styled, and the new look will be available in the UK during June for its first tastings and then will be officially launched in the off-trade on 1st July. Piat D'Or's traditional green bottle (the glass is called "dead leaf"), however, may not be a winner, according to the survey. When shown the small green bottles of the Hungarian wine brand Coolridge, the women surveyed said it resembled "cleaning products", looked like "disinfectant" and was an instant turn-off.

"We have spent time making sure Piat D'Or, and in particular the white wine which is very popular among our loyal female consumers, has improved the nature and texture of its taste. The new wine has more fruit and is less sweet which we hope will encourage younger drinkers and not alienate our loyal consumers. But when we say younger drinkers, we don't mean youth. Our average consumer is over 40 so our focus is on 30- to 40-year-olds and women in that age bracket," Walsh said.

Women's taste for wine develops with age. The survey showed clearly that regular wine drinking is more prevalent among the 35-54 age group, rather than younger women, a problem the industry is facing globally.

"In Australia, there is growing concern in the wine industry that younger drinkers who have grown up in a culture surrounded by quality wines are not interested in drinking wine at all," said Chris Losh, editor of the UK magazine Wine.

A selection of
Brown-Forman Wines

Sixty-four per cent of the women surveyed said they bought wines within the £3.99-£4.99 bracket, with 18% prepared to pay £5.00-£6.99, but that was the threshold. No-one said they would pay above the £7 price point leaving the super-premium, and the industry's real margins, very much male dominated.

Legge agrees: "Specialist and independent retailers are where we see purchasing become very male-orientated. The serious, laying-wine-down market over £7 is not really female, and the heavy reds are male. Women are very pragmatic and sensible, going for brands they can rely on, quickly and without fuss. Five years ago, I may not have cared if my brand's image was too macho but today you don't want to piss the women off."

He thinks Brown-Forman's organic Bonterra brand has the most appeal for women which he hopes to develop through the on-trade. This is where the battle really begins he believes: "There is so much crappy wine in pubs and women are very acute to what is good and has value. Pubs must spend more time finding out what taste works, adding smaller bottles, colour, labelling - basically produce a quality culture in the future."


Copies of the full Vinexpo/Mintel report on Women and Wine can be obtained from Vinexpo. Tel: 00 33 556 56 0012 email: Price: 120 Euros

Dispelling the myths

- Wine is the most popular alcoholic drink with women
- Yes, focus groups found that wine is an essential commodity for many women, not just a luxury.
- However, fewer than half of all women in the omnibus survey had drunk a glass of white wine in the six months (not the six days) before the research was conducted.
- Even among wine drinkers, the pattern is one of occasional wine drinking; wine is not a regular meal accompaniment for most women.
- A relatively small proportion of women are regularly buying wine, even as part of their grocery shopping. Only a third of the sample had bought a bottle of white wine in the last six months and only 25% had bought a bottle of red. For retailers, particularly grocers, the key to growth must be converting occasional purchasers into regular weekly wine shoppers.