Brock research highlights market growth opportunities for sustainable wine

New research from Brock’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) is providing insight into how wine retailers and producers can enhance consumer engagement with sustainable wines.

Just as more individuals are making eco-conscious choices, the wine industry is making inroads in creating more sustainable products, while also recognizing the environmental costs of traditional production methods, says Gary Pickering, CCOVI Researcher and Professor of Biological Sciences and Psychology.

“From the considerable water usage, use of fertilizers and chemicals, and even the effort to get finished product to market locally and around the world, wineries are beginning to understand this environmental cost and starting to explore more sustainable options,” he says. “We wanted to understand where that intersection of industry, sustainability value and consumers is occurring and why.”

Published in the Journal of Wine Research and Food Research International, the resulting studies saw more than 700 Canadian wine consumers surveyed to determine their relationship and intentions with sustainably-produced wine.

Gary Pickering, Brock University Professor of Biological Sciences and Psychology.

Gary Pickering, Brock University Professor of Biological Sciences and Psychology.

“Much of the previous behavioural research around sustainable wines was limited to organic wine and measures of willingness to pay,” says Pickering. “Going beyond this, we explored a much wider range of factors, including social and economic dimensions of sustainability, consumer knowledge and the influence of wine engagement and demographics.”

To explore consumer behaviour regarding sustainable wines, Pickering used the survey to understand individuals’ perceptions of sustainable wines, and determined what demographic and behavioral measures could predict their interest in buying and paying a premium for them.

He began by identifying eight sustainable wine behaviours, based on previous research, that motivate people to engage with ecofriendly wine. These behaviours reflect active choice decision-making, such as choosing wines for environmental reasons or paying more for socially responsible wines when there is a cheaper alternative.

The survey also explored the level of involvement consumers had with wine, categorizing participants on their knowledge of and interest in wines, as well as their purchase frequency.

The final data piece to add market context to the study was consumer demographics.

The results showed that while many Canadians do not have a deep engagement with sustainable wines, there is significant potential to move them toward purchase of more sustainably-produced products through communication initiatives.

“Reviewing the data, it is evident most Canadian wine consumers are in a change state when it comes to sustainable wine behaviours,” says Pickering. “We can see there is a need for education and certification initiatives, such as sustainability labelling,  to encourage and maintain the consumer shift to sustainable wines.”

The highest engagement with sustainable wines was with individuals who were typically younger, willing to spend more per bottle, more involved with wine generally and had acquired higher levels of education than other respondents.

“As a result, it could be argued that the more consumers know about and are engaged with wine, the greater the opportunities are for sustainability-orientated growers and producers in Canada,” Pickering says. “While 22 per cent of survey participants reported having no or very limited knowledge of sustainable wines, there’s no indication they are opposed to choosing more eco-ethical wines.

“Ultimately, our findings provide not only a foundation for further study, but also by identifying different consumer segments based on demographic and behavioral characteristics, marketers and retailers can better position sustainably produced wines. Ultimately, we are confident that by understanding and influencing consumer choice, this demand behaviour can support the sustainability initiatives happening throughout the Canadian wine industry.” he says.

To learn more about ongoing CCOVI research and opportunities, visit the institute’s website.

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