Which wine and wh(Y)? Industry perspectives on Generation Y consumers’ wine selection behaviour

by | Jul 1, 2020 | Oenology research, Winetech Technical

PHOTO: Shutterstock.

As much as wines differ from one another, so do the consumers at different stages of the journey of getting to know and enjoy wine, and each attaches a different set of values to wine.



To know what their consumers want is essential for any business. In the wine business, this is not a straightforward task, partly due to the complexity of the product and partly to consumer uncertainty. The circumstances that face the consumer when having to select a bottle of wine in retail are, mildly speaking, intimidating for the “average” person. Not only is the prospective buyer faced with an extensive selection of styles, brands and price points, but also the uncertainty about the taste of the wine.

While the phrase “average consumer” should be carefully defined, we were interested in the wine selection behaviour of Gen Y consumers (Generation Y, born between 1981 and 1996). This segment was identified in an industry-wide survey to show the most growth potential for consumption of SA wine. However, little has been published in the public domain on which factors influence their selection of wine in retail. The question arises whether we really know and understand the which wine and why mind-set in the retail setting of this fast-paced consumer segment.

This question was addressed as part of our Department of Science and Technology (DST)/Winetech-funded research on South African consumers’ perceptions of wine at Stellenbosch University. Data on Gen Y wine selection behaviour in retail were obtained from two sources, namely (1) industry role-players and (2) Gen Y consumers themselves. Here we report on the feedback from industry role-players.


Industry role-players perspectives on Gen Y wine selection behaviour

The seven industry role-players who participated in the study were selected from a wide range of vocations as shown in Figure 1, to get a broad perspective of industry professionals who interact with the consumer in different ways.

One-to-one semi-structured interviews were held with each of the professionals, their feedback was subjected to thematic analysis using text analytical software and the information was pooled. Below, we provide a summary of the aspects regarding Gen Y wine selection behaviour in retails that were identified by the professionals.


FIGURE 1. Vocations of South African wine industry professionals consulted for their perspectives on Gen Y wine selection behaviour in retail.


Appealing bottle extrinsics

When considering the outer appearance of the bottle, South African Gen Y consumers specifically look out for an appealing label, a known brand and the presence of wine awards.


Cultivar names are a burden to the consumers

Since wines are often categorised based on cultivar, it was surprising that six of the professionals were of the opinion that consumers find cultivars confusing. Some considered the cultivar information as an unnecessary burden for the consumers. However, this excluded the better-known cultivars, such as Sauvignon blanc and Merlot, which were considered to be generally recognised by the consumers.



The professionals reinforced the importance of the price of the wine, similar to opinions voiced in published research.


The importance of a high price was mentioned, in light of its desired effects on the consumer’s perception of the product:

Gen Y is willing to pay more for red than white wine according to the professionals.


  • Gen Y looks for an appealing sensory profile

The “typical” Gen Y consumer looks for a specific taste and style of wine, especially sweeter, lighter-bodied red wines. Emphasis was put onto the importance of flavours to Gen Y. It was suggested that communicating flavours on the bottle label might be more important than communicating cultivar names. The importance of food and wine should also not be ignored, especially in SA where traditional meals differ amongst the multitude of cultures. It was considered important to know what the target market’s traditional foods are and with which wines they will pair.


  • Gen Y wants to connect with the wine on a personal or social level

Due to their decreased experience with wine, Gen Y consumers will select a wine they have tasted before. This has to do with their awareness of their peers’ opinion(s), also relating to their need for a wine to say something about their own perceived status or image. A more expensive wine, or a good wine (known from past experience) the perception exists amongst Gen Y that their choice will reflect well on them within a social context. A wine may also be chosen if an emotional experience comes from purchasing it; they are more likely to purchase a wine if it evokes a feeling.


  • Gen Y wants to make an informed wine purchase decision

The professionals were unanimous about the notion that Gen Y wants to know more about wine. An all-important aspect of wine is the story behind it. The more the Gen Y consumer knows about the wine, the more likely they will be to purchase it. Although this consumer segment wants to be educated on wine, it is important that the information is communicated in a simple, easy-to-understand manner. In the words of the wine consultant: “… communication on the label is absolutely vital – simple, key elements that interpret and communicate the flavour. A simple one; it’s almost boringly simple, but it makes a big difference: Dry or sweet or fruity or crisp. Wooded or unwooded.” Gen Y holds the wine experts’ personal opinions in high regard and uses the information provided to choose the “best” wine.


  • The purchase or consumption situation will influence which wine is chosen

The occasion for which Gen Y consumers are purchasing wine for will influence their choice. For instance, consumers may choose a Sauvignon blanc or rosé on a hot summer’s day. The professionals mentioned that some consumers may not traditionally drink wine, but that a special occasion may encourage them to do so. The same is considered true for the purchase situation. In other words, where someone is purchasing wine will be dependent on why they are purchasing the wine.


  • Gen Y wants to try something different

Although the consumers are likely to purchase wines they have experienced before, or brands they know, Gen Y is most likely to try something new. The professional experience that these consumers are becoming increasingly experiential. This was also used as an explanation why the craft beers category is doing well. It was again related to Gen Y need for connection with the product: “… they’re looking at other things – excitement, innovation, contemporary, something where they can see it’s different or has character, or it reflects something of their personality, or something they can connect to.”



This paper provides a number of perspectives of wine industry role-players (i.e. wine industry side) on Gen Y consumers’ wine purchase behaviour in a retail setting. More details are available in Winetech Report IWBT W15/01 or from the authors. In a follow-up article, insights from Generation Y consumers (i.e. consumption side) will be presented.



DST/Winetech-funded project IWBT W15/01, NRF Bursary (CG), THRIP PR_TP190214417702, and IWBT-US.



Gevers, C., 2019. Insights into South African wine consumer behaviour: A mixed methods study. MSc thesis, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch.


– For more information, contact Claudia Gevers at claudia@rcaconsult.com or Hélène Nieuwoudt at hhn@sun.ac.za.


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