Wine consumers are creatures of brand habits

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

PHOTO: Shutterstock.


Buying wine still causes a headache for many South African consumers. With an array of choice and wine often shared socially, consumers are hesitant to spend money on unfamiliar wines. In 2018, Dr Nadia van der Colff completed a PhD study about consumers’ wine purchase behaviour at the South African Grape and Wine Research Institute, in conjunction with the Department of Business Management, Stellenbosch University. In-depth interviews were held with consumers, followed by a survey which were completed by more than 2 000 South African wine consumers.

As the majority of wine is purchased from South African supermarkets, this study focussed on consumers’ buying process in the retail environment. A varietal-specific approach was followed that investigated perceptions and buying behaviour within the South African white wine category. Chenin blanc is South Africa’s most planted wine grape variety, yet in the 750 mL white wine bottle category, substantially more Sauvignon blanc is sold.1 From the research, recommendations were made to improve the position of Chenin blanc in the South African market. In this study, more than 80% of respondents indicated to rely on a familiar brand name when buying South African white wine.2 Results provided further insights, indicating that consumers might attach brand status to wine varietals.


Background on brand loyalty – a consumer perspective

A brand is a name, symbol, design or a combination of the aforementioned and is used to identify and differentiate a product within a category.3 Brand loyalty is a known risk-reducing strategy that consumers use during the intimidating wine buying process. Consumers therefore rely on a few well-known brand names that reduce their uncertainty and eventually becomes a safe, routine item in the shopping cart. Brand loyalty, however, does not happen in the blink of an eye.

The very first step to brand loyalty is satisfied consumers. To satisfy a consumer, requires that important product attributes and the consumer’s experience with the product, meet or exceed pre-established expectations (Figure 1). Expectations are mostly shaped by previous experiences and in the case of wine, consistency of sensory characteristics associated with a specific varietal or brand, is critically important. Therefore, a process of learning, with repetitive positive experiences should occur over time before a brand can eventually be trusted. Brand loyalty is the ultimate position for any producer as loyal consumers often show resistance towards alternative options and engage in positive word-of-mouth by recommending the brand to friends and family.4


FIGURE 1. Consumer satisfaction formation – the first step to brand loyalty.


Is Sauvignon blanc a brand?

Already in 1986 it was said that consumers might recognise wine varietals as true brands.5 However, based on results of this study, brand status was linked to a specific wine varietal for the first time. More than 70% of respondents agreed to buy Sauvignon blanc when they are uncertain about their wine choice in the supermarket. Also, 49% of respondents said that they always buy Sauvignon blanc, compared to a lot less consumers that always buy Chenin blanc (28%), Chardonnay (27%) and white blends (19%). Twenty percent of consumers furthermore indicated that they never buy Chenin blanc. In this study, consumers indicated that they know what to expect from the sensory characteristics of Sauvignon blanc. Sauvignon blanc was furthermore described as the “safe choice” and “social norm” that will satisfy friends and family. In comparison to other wine varietals, Sauvignon blanc was indicated to be the first choice for special occasions and when buying wine as a gift. From the results, it appears as if Sauvignon blanc indeed fit the characteristics of a brand. This finding is promising to other varietals aiming to establish a brand status.


Chenin blanc needs identity

Consumers were asked to recommend strategies for Chenin blanc that were described as “unfamiliar” and “never the first choice” during the interviews. They mentioned it is important to differentiate Chenin blanc from other varietals on a sensory level. Due to the adaptability of Chenin blanc grapes, as well as the inherent sensory variances, differentiating Chenin blanc based on sensory characteristics is perhaps this varietal’s biggest challenge. However, consumers need consistent positive experiences and much more exposure to Chenin blanc. In the case that consistent sensory experiences are not possible, at least the message to the consumer by means of marketing communication should be consistent. Consumers agreed that real experiences, such as wine tastings (74%), also with food pairings (76%), are much more important than social media campaigns on Facebook (36%) and Twitter (22%). Respondents do not think opinions from wine experts, recommendations from store assistants, marketing information without wine tastings or celebrity endorsers that promote Chenin blanc are necessarily good strategies to improve this category. They rather recommend tastings in the supermarket (74%), promotions at restaurants (72%), as well as recommendations by friends or family (66%), as strategies to promote Chenin blanc. During the interviews, the message from wine consumers was clear: “I don’t know what to expect from Chenin blanc and how it differs from Sauvignon blanc”; “I have tasted a lot of Chenin’s and they all taste completely different”; “Chenin needs some sort of categorising … an identity”. More time and effort is therefore required before Chenin blanc can be established as a brand. Yet, with an identity, consistent characteristics and sufficient exposure, market share may slowly increase.



From the research, it appears as if consumers prefer to remain brand loyal during wine purchases. Brands that are known to consumers are safe options as consumers know what to expect from their few trusted brands. This way, there are no nasty surprises when these habitual wines are served to friends or enjoyed home alone. After a series of positive experiences, it is possible that consumers attach brand value to wine varietals, such as Sauvignon blanc. Recommendations to increase Chenin blanc market share include: Consistent sensory experiences and/or communication with consumers, more exposure by means of real experiences, such as tastings at supermarkets and restaurants, as well as food pairings. It might take some time, but with a reputable identity and carefully designed strategies, it is possible to establish Chenin blanc as a brand and routine purchase.



This article provides background on brand loyalty and presents results from a study that investigated consumers’ purchase behaviour of white wine. South African consumers buy well-known wine brands, but also attach brand value to generic wine varietals. From a consumer perspective, Sauvignon blanc is discussed as a brand within the South African white wine category. To improve the position of Chenin blanc in the South African wine market, recommendations are made within the framework of brand loyalty.



DST and Winetech-funded project IWBT W15/01; NRF Scarce Skills Bursary NvdC; THRIP PR_TP190214417702; and IWBT-US.



  1. SAWIS, 2017. SA Wine Industry 2017 Statistics 42. [Online]. Available: [2018, June 26].
  2. Van der Colff, N., 2019. Exploring consumers’ risk perception during wine retail decision-making: Insights for Chenin blanc. PhD thesis. Stellenbosch: Stellenbosch University.
  3. Johansson, J.K. & Carlson, K.A., 2015. Contemporary brand management. Los Angeles: Sage.
  4. Schiffman, L., Kanuk, L., Brewer, S., Crous, F., Du Preez, R. et al., 2014. Consumer behaviour global and Southern African perspectives. Cape Town: Pearson.
  5. Gluckman, R.L., 1986. A consumer approach to branded wines. European Journal of Marketing 20(6): 21 – 35.


– For more information, contact Nadia van der Colff at


Article Archives

Search for more articles

Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content

Stay current with our monthly editions

Share This
Shopping cart
There are no products in the cart!
Continue shopping