Dr. Nadia van der Colff
1 March 2021
This article is the first of a series of blogs about wine consumers. Important themes of consumer behaviour, with relevance for strategic marketing of wine and/or Sauvignon blanc, will be covered in the series. In this article, the basics of consumer perception is unpacked with some insight on current and future Sauvignon blanc positioning in the South African market.
It’s all about perception
The term perception is often used to describe consumers’ behaviour towards a product. Perception is, however, one of numerous interconnected factors such as demographics, reference groups, education, culture and personality that influence consumer decision-making. Perception is a complex process, defined as
“the process by which an individual selects, organises, and interprets stimuli into a meaningful and coherent picture of the world1”.
This aforementioned perceptual process typically helps the wine consumer to make sense of the overwhelming amount of wine and wine brands (stimuli) to choose from. However, what consumers’ subconsciously and consciously do with stimuli will ultimately result into action – sale or no sale. Consumers, therefore, selectively perceive and pay attention to relevant stimuli while ignoring irrelevant stimuli1.
The selected one
For any wine to be selected by a consumer depends on two dominant factors: 1) consumers’ previous experience with a wine or wine brand (that shape their expectations of all attributes including price and sensory aspects) and 2) consumers’ purchase motives at the point-of-purchase (e.g. buying wine for a special occasion versus buying wine for at home consumption)2-3. Therefore, a thorough understanding of target market expectations and motives are critically important to position a wine to ensure optimal chances for consumer selection.
Managing consumer expectations
One of the fundamental principles of marketing and consumer behaviour revolves around expectations. A satisfied consumer will have their expectations met or exceeded and could eventually become loyal after repetitive positive experiences with the same product or brand1. Regarding wine, it remains crucial for a consumer to have a “real wine experience”, preferably by tasting the wine, whether formal or socially. It is only through a “real” wine experience that impressions and expectations about the sensory aspects, brand name and price can be formed.
Previously, it has been found that the taste of wine per se is less important to consumers than the taste of wine associated with a specific brand4; emphasising that consumers hardly ever process individual elements, but rather all aspects of a product into one meaningful picture. This does, however, not mean that taste is less important; the sensory aspects remain essential for an enjoyable wine experience. The perceived taste of the wine needs to meet or exceed the expectations created by the price, brand image and other information the consumer had prior to tasting the wine for the first time. All elements of the complete wine product need to be aligned and appealing to the intended target market.
Consumers’ wine varietal expectations
Similar to a brand name and reference price (e.g. R 65 – R 100 for a bottle of unwooded Sauvignon blanc), consumers might also have expectations about wine varietals. In fact, it was found that some consumers see wine varietals as “true brands” and the purchase risk is low when consumers can predict how a wine varietal will taste. Over time, and with sufficient exposure and experience, consumers build up a sensory memory and associate and recognise a varietal according to a distinctive taste. Alike, the success of Sauvignon blanc in the South African market lies in its consistency as consumers know what to expect of this varietal in terms of taste5.
Sauvignon blanc perception and positioning
It currently appears as if the local market perceives Sauvignon blanc, the best-selling variety, as a popular and uncomplicated wine. In a previous study, it was found, that Sauvignon blanc is a superior choice for a variety of purchase motives such as gifting, at home consumption and special occasions when compared to other varietals5. However, as market dynamics, consumer expectations and preferences change over time, it might be required to reposition a product1.
When repositioning is considered, there are two avenues: 1) when changes are positive and directed at a specific/new target market, it should be apparent and well-differentiated from the original stimuli – e.g. reduced alcohol Sauvignon blanc intended for health conscious consumer segments;
2) when changes are negative or directed at an existing target market, it should be subtle and almost below the level of conscious perception – e.g. price increases or changes to the sensory profile of Sauvignon blanc. Blanc Fumé might, therefore, confuse the traditional, non-expert Sauvignon blanc drinker when wood contact is not subtle and is perhaps currently suitable for experienced wine appreciators.
Changing market dynamics
Although Sauvignon blanc is currently a firm favourite and safe choice amongst South African wine drinkers, there are indications that younger generations intend to consume less alcohol in general. In a recent study by Consumer Solutions, with data collected from 2774 South African wine drinkers, younger consumers (18-35 years) indicated to consume wine less frequently than older consumers (55+ years)6. However, the younger age group indicated to spend considerably more per bottle of wine for at home consumption than their elderly counterparts (R 127 vs R 86). These findings are important for future Sauvignon blanc product and pricing strategies, specifically considering value and volume offerings, as well as market share in a highly competitive wine category.
In the next article of the consumer series, the South African “wine culture” will be addressed; highlighting some of the most important findings of recent South African wine consumer studies.
- Schiffman, L., Kanuk, L., Brewer, S., Crous, F., du Preez, R., Human, D., Jansen van Rensburg, M., Raninger, S., Tshivhase, T. & Shrosbree, T. (2014). Consumer behaviour global and Southern African perspectives, Cape Town: Pearson.
- Dodd, T.H., Laverie, D.A., Wilcox, J.F & Duhan. D.F. (2005). Differential effects of experience, subjective knowledge, and objective knowledge on sources of information used in consumer wine purchasing. Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Research, 29(1), 3-19.
- Ginon, E., Ares, G., Issanchou, S., Laboissière, L.H.E. dos S., & Deliza, R. (2014). Identifying motives underlying wine purchase decisions: Results from an exploratory free listing task with Burgundy wine consumers. Food Research International, 62, 860–867.
- Mitchell, V.-W., & Greatorex, M. (1988). Consumer Risk Perception in the UK Wine Market. European Journal of Marketing, 22(9), 5–15.
- van der Colff, N., Pentz, C. & Nieuwoudt, H. (2019). A varietal-specific approach to investigate wine risk perception in South Africa: insights for Chenin blanc. International Journal of Wine Business Research, 31(4), 640-659.
- Consumer Solutions. (2020). Grey for volume and green for value. June, 30. Available: https://www.consumersolutions.co.za/post/grey-for-volume-and-green-for-value-wine-behaviour-according-to-age.