Dr. Nadia van der Colff
3 March 2021
In this blog post (the second in the Wine Consumer series brought to you by Sauvignon Blanc SA), the South African “wine culture”, with some wine trends are discussed. Significant findings are reported to provide an overview of changes and opportunities with local consumer insights that could be of value when developing a marketing plan to promote Sauvignon blanc wines.
The South African “wine culture”
Referring to a “wine culture” in South Africa is perhaps an overstatement and aspiration of many local wine producers. The development of the local market is indeed a priority of Vinpro through the WISE (Wine Industry Strategic Exercise) initiative. Unlike countries such as France and Italy (with well-established wine cultures), it is more appropriate to refer to “subcultures” in the context of the South African wine market. Dividing a diverse market into smaller groups is also helpful to better understand and reach consumers with similar beliefs, rituals and purchasing preferences1.
“Where culture describes dominant beliefs and rituals of an entire society, dividing a market into subcultures are useful to identify trends and opportunities according to e.g. age, gender and geographic location1”.
There are numerous international studies on consumers’ wine purchase and consumption behaviour. However, results from consumer studies outside South Africa cannot be generalised to our local market. Rather, a country-specific approach is required as wine consumption practices and preferences differ greatly between cultures, subcultures and regions2.
The bigger South African picture
South Africa, one of the ten largest global wine-producing countries, does not have a wine-drinking culture. Wine (still wine, sparkling wine and fortified wine combined) only contributed 8.84% to total alcohol (ℓ) consumed by South Africans in 20193. It is, however, not all doom and gloom for the wine category. Upon scrutiny of the most recently published SAWIS data, numerous changes in local wine consumption are observed3:
- Over ten years (2007-2017), consumption of still wine in South Africa increased by 30%. Concerning price categories, standard (low) priced still wine decreased by 26.4% while medium- and high-priced still wine increased by 113.4% and 37.26% respectively in the same period.
- From 2018 to 2019, there was a slight decrease in total still wine consumption (-6%). However, the medium- and high-priced categories showed an increase, with super-premium (R 72 – R 108 / litre) and ultra-premium (>R108 / litre) growing by 2% and 2.7% respectively.
- In the same period, low priced still wine (<R 30 / litre) consumption decreased by 8%, however, the majority market share (48.38% in the still wine category)3 was retained.
Although at a low baseline, growth in the higher-priced still wine categories is certainly encouraging, indicative of a small shift towards higher value wines.
Wine type and varietal trends
Sauvignon blanc still at the top
Sauvignon blanc proved to grow consistently with an 8% increase in domestic consumption from 2018-2019. From a single varietal perspective, Sauvignon blanc is certainly the current shining star as more than twice the amount of Sauvignon blanc was sold than the second most popular single varietal wine – Merlot3. (To read more about the key to the Sauvignon blanc success story from a consumer perspective, please refer to Part 1 of this Wine Consumer series).
Shift from sweet to dry
In the Rosé/Blanc de Noir category, a shift from natural sweet (-17.5%) and semi-sweet (-10.16%) to dry wine (+10.3%) was noted from 2018-2019. With a developing wine market, it is encouraging to notice shifts to drier style wines, indicating a transitioning from the “sweet point of entry” to more acquired tastes along the consumer wine journey. Also, in 2019, more dry Rosé was sold locally than Chardonnay, white blends, Pinotage and Shiraz3 and appears to have gained traction amongst South African wine consumers.
South African wine consumer studies
Compared to some other wine-producing countries, there is a lack of consumer research on the South African wine market. Only recently, academic studies, predominantly at the Stellenbosch University, have been conducted and some significant findings from two doctoral projects4-5, that reported on subcultural comparisons between local consumers, were published. Some key findings and recommendations:
- From consumer focus group interviews4, it was concluded that South Africans, regardless of gender or ethnicity, associate wine with material wealth as well as higher social status. However, South African consumers reportedly see white wine as less sophisticated than red wine/MCC. White wine is rather associated with informal consumption during the day.
White wine, including Sauvignon blanc could perhaps be promoted more with fine dining and food pairing experiences.
- From survey data, investigating consumers’ purchase motives, wine’s social factor was rated most important by Gauteng consumers. On the contrary, for Western Cape consumers, sensory appeal was the most important motivating factor when buying wine4.
- When promoting unfamiliar wine, all consumers, regardless of age, ethnicity or gender, rated “wine experiences with food” as well as “wine tastings” to be significantly more important than social media marketing5.
- Looking at different age groups, South African consumers younger than 30 years of age buy significantly less Sauvignon blanc than consumers older than 30 years of age5.
To grow Sauvignon blanc market share, younger generations need to be targeted (see Part 1 of this series for more insight into younger generations’ wine purchase and consumption habits).
The marketing of Sauvignon blanc should follow a differentiated approach based on various subcultures’ motives and expectations and requires a good understanding of target market dynamics. The statistics and recommendations reported in this blog post could help the producer to market Sauvignon blanc more efficiently, by targeting the right subculture/s. In the next blog post of this Wine Consumer series, a handy Guideline for “consumer research with impact” will be provided to further support the improvement of Sauvignon blanc marketing.
- 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.
- Duhan,D.F. Rinaldo, S.B., Velikova, N., Dodd, T. & Trela, B. (2019). Hospitality situations, consumer expertise, and perceptions of wine attributes: three empirical studies. International Journal of Wine Business Research, 31(1), 68-88.
- (2020). South African Wine Industry Statistics 2019 (No 44.) Available: http://www.sawis.co.za/info/annualpublication.php.
- Weightman, C.J. (2018). Consumer attitudes and sensory perceptions of wine: a South African cross-culture study. PhD Dissertation. Stellenbosch: University of Stellenbosch.
- van der Colff, N. (2019). Exploring consumers’ risk perception in wine retail decision-making: insights for Chenin blanc. PhD Dissertation. Stellenbosch: University of Stellenbosch.