I thought it would be interesting to take a look at what’s “big” in the wine market (where the most consumer dollars are going) versus what’s “hot” (or “hot hot hot” as in the video above), showing the fastest growth. I’m using U.S. off-premises wine sales data from Nielsen for the 52 weeks ending 9/18/2010 taken from the December 2010 issue of Wine Business Monthly.
Baseline information: Off-premises wine sales in the U.S. totaled $9,172 million in the period covered here according to the Nielsen report, with an overall growth rate of 3.2%.
Which product categories are the largest in absolute terms and which are growing the fastest? I’m going to break down the data by wine varietal, country of origin (for imported wines) and price category. Take a minute and write down what wines/countries/price points you think will be at the top in each category and see if you’re right. Here goes
Chardonnay Leads the Way
Forget what you thought you knew about Chardonnay being so yesterday and Pinot Noir kicking Merlot’s butt. In terms of the overall retail market sales, the giants (or are they dinosaurs?) still dominate.
American wine drinkers are nothing if not traditional, reaching again and again for familiar varietals, so the usual suspects come top of the table. Pinot Noir has indeed surged in the post-Sideways era, but its lead over wounded White Zin is not large and it still lags far behind arch nemesis Merlot.
Obvious Chardonnay is the consumer default with a 50% lead on Cabernet and double the sales of Merlot. Pinot Grigio, the #2 white varietal, lags far behind.
I find the varietal “hot list” below quite interesting. The fastest growing wine varietals are Riesling, Pinot Noir (of course), Sangiovese and Sauvignon Blanc. (Interestingly, varietal Sangiovese is rising while Chianti is a shrinking category in the Nielsen league table.)
It seems to me that while the “big” varietals are wines that many consumers purchase to drink on their own (because of their high alcohol levels and for other reasons), the “hot varietals” are a bit more likely to be food wines. I wonder if that’s a trend?
World Wine Web
Most of the table wines that Americans drink are American — there is a very strong home country preference. Domestic wine sales totaled $6,524 million for the period covered here while imports accounted for $2,648 million. What countries supply the most imported wine as measured by total expenditures? Here’s the Big list:
BIG import countries
|Country of Origin||$ million|
As the table shows, Italy and Australia are #1 and #2 respectively in off-premises sales. It is interesting that France has fallen to #4 behind Chile. Argentina and New Zealand make the cut here (Spain did not!) as you might expect, but bear in mind that Italy still sells more wine in the U.S. than Chile, France, Argentina and the Kiwis combined. The concentration ratio in this market is very high: Italy and Australia may be struggling at the moment, but they are in a league of their own.
Italy and Australia will not be over-taken soon, but the market momentum seems to have has passed. Look at the big growth numbers that Argentina and New Zealand are putting up below! Wow. Annual growth rates of more than 20%!
HOT import countries
|Country of Origin||Increase|
Now look at the gap between the really hot ones and the rest! Germany comes in at #3 on hot list, but with a low 4.4% increase for the year. Sales of most wine imports (including Italy and Australia) have actually fallen in the last year. Spain and Portugal squeeze onto the list at #5 and #6 by simply avoiding utter collapse. The import wine segment is slumping badly, with Argentina and New Zealand the only significant exceptions.
The Price is Right
Finally, let’s look at the market in terms of price points. What are the biggest and hottest parts of the wine wall in terms of price?
BIG price points
|Price Segment||$ million|
|$3.00 – $5.99||$2,688|
|$6.00 – $8.99||$1,903|
|$9.00 – $11.99||$1,868|
|$12.00 – $14.99||$910|
|$0 – $2.99||$794|
|$15.00 – $19.99||$557|
You can see from the data why Gallo is having a good year (or probably having a good year, since they are a private company and don’t release data so I can only guess). Their brand portfolio is aimed at the heart of the market, from $3.00 to $11.99. Lots of good targets there!
You can also see why Constellation Brands is probably finding this a challenging year. They reconfigured their brand portfolio to take advantage of what they saw as upmarket opportunities. They moved up the wine wall a bit but the market changed directions and went downmarket, leaving them in a less competitive position.
HOT price points
|$9.00 – $11.99||9.1%|
|$12.00 – $14.99||5.0%|
|$3.00 – $5.99||4.5%|
|$15.00 – $19.99||2.5%|
|$0 – $2.99||(0.1)%|
|$6.00 – $8.99||(4.0)%|
But Constellation’s upmarket bet may yet pay off. The hot price segments are all in the wine wall’s upper strata.
The Old Elasticity Trap
The rise in spending in the super-premium + categories is an encouraging sign, but I think some caution is necessary in interpreting the data. Many observers see the big increase in expenditures on $20+ wines and conclude that consumers are coming back to this segment strongly — that the demand curve has shifted. But I suspect that there is a lot of bargain hunting taking place and that margins are falling – bad news. Maybe we are just following discounted prices down the demand curve.
For many of today’s buyers a $20+ retail wine is a highly discretionary purchase and so the demand curve may be quite elastic. Econ 101 students will remember that total expenditure increases when price falls for a product with an elastic demand.
The large percentage expenditure increases we seen in the data could result from discounting — $30 wines being sold off for $25 and so on — rather than an actual increase in demand or shift in the demand curve. The increased revenues are good and inspire optimism, but they may disguise the bad news of shrinking margins.
(As I am writing this, the neighborhood Safeway is offering an extra 20% off any wine selling for $20 or more. I suspect sales revenue will increase at the lower retail markup.)
Overall conclusions? I’d rather not, thanks. These data are interesting more for the questions they raise than the answers they provide. But the questions about how the U.S. wine market is changing are worth pondering (hopefully over a nice glass of wine). Cheers.