The past 12 months have had a dramatic impact on the wine industry.
Through the closure of the hospitality sector, social distancing regulations slowing down production, dwindling sales that have left producers struggling with a lack of space for new vintages, a complete halt on wine tourism, and even unseasonal frosts, the sector has faced more than its fair share of challenges during the Covid-19 pandemic, writes Cathy Murray.
But each of these trials and tribulations have forced the industry to adapt and as a result there has been a great deal of innovation and forward-thinking coming from what was once perceived to be a fairly traditional and, in some ways, ‘old fashioned’ sector. For many, this has been a welcome change that has sparked a big transformation in the way that the industry does business, and as importantly, how it communicates with consumers.
Global lockdowns have had a significant impact on purchasing behaviour and consumers are now far more likely to seek out online channels for wine consumption. Think Google research suggests that this boom in ecommerce is here to stay, a shift that has seen many wine companies embracing online platforms as a way of selling more product and delivering an ‘experience’ to enhance customer loyalty.
Shift to digital
Online wine merchant and events business, Honest Grapes, has seen a big sales uplift during the pandemic and an overnight pivot to hosting virtual tastings for customers has been a significant part of that success. The business held more than 150 Wine Therapy tasting sessions last year for an audience of around 3,000 consumers, with sales more than doubling as a result.
Back in February, Virgin Wines announced its intention to float on the stock market as revenues increased 33% and the company delivered over one million cases of wine to customers in one year. With such impressive returns, it is no surprise the business has every intention of continuing to bolster its online content strategy in the future.
Similarly, Davy’s Wine Merchants is using audio to create an online experience that is helping to drive sales of its wines via its ecommerce platform. Davys Winemaker Audible Series features audio interviews with producers that are playable from the website, allowing customers to understand more about the wine they are about to purchase before they click the ‘Buy’ button.
The role ecommerce plays in selling wine will only become more significant and it’s vital that the industry understands how to capitalise on that growth and how to continue to talk to consumers through this increasingly important channel.
At the same time the power and effectiveness of video conferencing platforms have transformed how we all communicate and have become a lifeline to a wine industry which was once built on doing the majority of its business in-person. Tastings, events, and masterclasses are the bread and butter of the sector and platforms such as Zoom and Teams have become a vital way of allowing these to continue throughout the pandemic. There are also obvious advantages to this approach, which suggest virtual conferences could still have a role to play once lockdowns start to ease around the world. While many from the industry used to dedicate days to travelling across the globe to meet for landmark events, they can now participate from their home office, saving time, curbing costs, and boosting greater attendance overall.
Conferencing platforms have also given the industry a way of communicating more easily with consumers, with tastings at home making wine feel much more accessible and helping to cut down many of the barriers to trying something new. People feel far more at ease tasting in the comfort of their own homes than they might do at a more formal affair.
Vagabond Wines, for example, has seen runaway success with its at-home wine flight concept, giving consumers the opportunity to purchase a selection of six wines for home delivery to taste unaided using notes accessed via a QR code, or to join one of the guided virtual tastings that the company has been running on Zoom. This gives the customer complete freedom over when and how they explore the wines in their glass.
Physical wine tastings and expos will no doubt return – there is no replacement for the conviviality of meeting face-to-face – but virtual events are likely to continue as a valuable new string to the industry’s bow.
Meanwhile, a whole host of innovative packaging solutions have also come to the fore to help satisfy demand for these new at-home tasting occasions. With a bit of notice, wine can now arrive through your letterbox and there has been a marked increase of sales of bag-in-box wines as people have minimised trips to their local supermarket.
The fallout from the pandemic is likely to affect the way we live and work for years to come, and it seems highly likely that we will continue to adopt some of the new ways of working and purchasing that have dominated the past year. For the wine industry these changes have dramatically impacted the way the sector operates, but for many businesses there are key learnings in how they engage with consumers. It has been the toughest of years, but the future is bright for wine, and I for one can’t wait to see what it holds.