Dr Carla Weightman (Photo: EJ Langer)

South African wine consumers share similar perceptions about wine across different ethnic groups.

This is according to research by Dr Carla Weightman that focuses on the perceptions of consumers towards wine. Dr Weightman recently received her PhD (Wine Biotechnology) in the Faculty of AgriScience at Stellenbosch University.

Dr Weightman’s study is the first of its kind to focus on understanding the changed landscape of local wine consumers in a cross-cultural way. Her work focused on the two most significant wine-consuming population groups in the country, namely urban black and white wine drinkers. The project was done in the research programme of Dr Hélène Nieuwoudt, senior researcher at the Institute for Wine Biotechnology, which focuses on consumer and sensory aspects of South African wine.

Historically, the white consumer group was the largest group of wine drinkers, but black consumers now account for approximately 80% of the wine consumers in the country. Yet little research has gone into investigating the changing nature of local wine consumers and their perceptions of wine.

What sets wine apart

It appears wine is associated with status and sophistication, appearance, celebration, relaxation, and food. Dr Weightman explains: “The fact that wine is consumed with food is what seems to be the driving force differentiating wine from other alcoholic beverage categories. While not surprising, these results emphasise the importance of consumers’ motivations, and the industry should focus its attention on these ideas. As consumers’ socio-demographics become similar, so do their wine perceptions and preferences.”

Dr Weightman used focus groups to get a better understanding of consumers’ perceptions, style preferences, the context of enjoyment, buying and consumption patterns, and journeys towards wine consumption. She developed a questionnaire to investigate motivations for wine consumption on a larger scale and focused on urban consumers living in Gauteng.

Overall, motivations for drinking wine between the different consumer segments studied were similar. The social aspects, sensory appeal and ethical concern factors were the three most important motivational determinants for consumers’ wine choices. “Observed differences mainly occurred between male and female consumers. With regards to ethnicity, this study did not reflect a large distinction between the different ethnic groups,” Dr Weightman remarks.

In South Africa, approximately 56% of the wine-drinking population is female, and they seem to drink more wine on a broader set of occasions than their male counterparts, who make up around 43% of the wine-consuming population. Wine is usually the first choice alcoholic beverage for females on most occasions. Males will generally choose to drink beer or whiskey first, but will drink wine when it accompanies a meal. Females from both cultural groups tended to start consuming wine on a more regular basis earlier in life than their male counterparts. Younger males of both cultural groups drink mostly beer and spirits (whiskey).

Context

The most significant influence on wine consumption is the context in which it is consumed. The second key factor is the venue where the consumption will take place, and the third factor is whether a meal is involved. Ultimately, the deciding factor in consumer choices about wine is related to their budget, according to the study.

Another context where wine consumption differs is at home. Female participants mentioned that they often have a glass of wine when they get home to help them relax after a stressful day. For males, wine consumption was strongly linked to social occasions. This finding is not limited to wine but has also been found to be true for beer consumption. An emerging trend amongst black consumers, both male and female, is the idea of matching your meal and your wine to enhance the eating experience. According to the study, it seems as though black consumers are more conscious and interested in keeping up with current trends and brands than their white counterparts.

Red over white

Interestingly, red wine is considered to be superior to white wine. People are also willing to spend more money on red wine than white wine, and especially if the bottle has a cork. Consumers also believe wine with a cork “tastes different” from wine with a twist cap but could not describe exactly how the taste differed.

Although the black consumer group had a relatively delayed start to their wine consumption, their motivations for drinking wine and perceptions about it do not seem to differ significantly from that of their white counterparts.

Keeping it special

“Barriers” in terms of consumption etiquette and unspoken rules were identified as possible reasons preventing broader wine consumption. To some degree, it is also these barriers that differentiate wine from other alcohol categories. Dr Weightman explains: “This is a bit of a catch-22 when it comes to increasing wine consumption in South Africa. Although the industry would like to see an increase in consumption and make wine more accessible, the elite status (of the product) is what makes wine appealing. This leads to the question: if everyone starts drinking wine, could it lose its appeal?”

The project was funded by the National Research Foundation, Department of Science and Technology, Winetech and the Institute for Wine Biotechnology.

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