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Study sheds light on consumer attitudes towards sparkling wine- South Africa

A growing number of South Africa’s Millennials or Generation Y consumers have started to consider sparkling wine their alcoholic beverage of choice.

This is according to research by Tshepo Mokonotela on the perceptions of South African consumers towards sparkling wine. Mokonotela, originally from Rustenburg, is busy with his MSc, Wine Biotechnology in the Faculty of AgriSciences at Stellenbosch University (SU).

Mokonotela’s study is the first of its kind to focus on understanding the changing landscape of sparkling wine and Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) consumers in the local context. MCC products are made using the traditional French method. A second fermentation process takes place in the bottle to create the sought-after bubbles.

Insights gained from recent consumer behaviour research have helped the local wine industry to develop new marketing strategies for its products. This has not yet happened in the sparkling wine industry, Mokonotela says. “Unfortunately, research has lagged in investigating how the modern-day sparkling wine products are accepted and experienced by consumers. This is particularly true for the upcoming and fast-growing conspicuous consumer. Conspicuous consumers represent an untapped market that the wine industry is still struggling to relate to,” he indicates.

These consumers often make brand and purchase choices that are status- and image-driven. “Generation Y consumers often buy MCC to display their wealth and income,” Mokonotela says. “This is especially the case with young black consumers in Gauteng who enjoy sparkling wines and are willing and able to pay a premium for it.”

Mokonotela’s research focusses on sparkling wine consumers younger than 35. He wants to identify which MCC styles are most popular with Generation Y and whether there are any gender differences in consumers’ preferred style. “The reason we are looking at this group is to see how they differ from the traditional sparkling wine consumers,” Mokonotela explains. “Although they might be young, and some of them still dependent on their parents, these kids do their own thing. They are trendsetters; they are influencers and yet they are still the guy (or girl) next door that everyone wants to know and be like.”

Generation Y consumers (born between 1981 and 1995) often like showing off how well they are doing in life, research shows. “These consumers commonly enjoy fun and sensory experiences, which sparkling wine products provide. They are also image-conscious and want to show off their material success,” he adds.

Conspicuous consumption of sparkling wine is mainly affected by interpersonal influences. “Conspicuous consumers consider brands to be important in shaping their identity and in creating a sense of (personal) achievement,” Mokonotela says. “We have seen that with the rise in social media influencers and cryptocurrency, new MCC drinkers are entering the market.”

Mokonotela’s study indicates that many Generation Y consumers are choosing MCC as a lifestyle product and do not view it as a luxury product for special occasions only. “They don’t need an occasion to pop the cork on a sparkling wine. Increasingly, consumers in this group consider MCC their alcoholic beverage of choice, especially when spending time with friends.”

As part of his research, Mokonotela is also exploring the sensory space of MCC using data mining and machine learning techniques, a method of data analysis that automates analytical model building. He uses these techniques to visualise the sensory space of MCC by analysing sensory descriptors published in the John Platter Wine Guide to South African Wines.

His study is being done in the research programme of Dr. Hélène Nieuwoudt, a senior researcher at the Institute for Wine Biotechnology (IWBT). Research on consumers’ perceptions of wine feature strongly in Nieuwoudt’s research group. Several post-graduate students are part of the programme and graduates have taken positions in the wine industry.

Businesses have taken note of the need to incorporate modern-day consumers’ perspectives in the design of products, services and more. Nieuwoudt reflects: “When we turn our attention to wine consumption, producers realise that a paradigm shift is necessary for communicating wine to consumers.

“It is no longer enough to rely solely on connoisseurs’ sensory descriptions of a wine’s taste; instead, grasping the how, why, when and with whom the clients select to drink wine is necessary. This is particularly relevant for sparkling wine, which consumers associate with celebration, special occasions and sharing with family and friends,” she states.

South Africa’s wine consumption per capita is very low compared to other wine-producing nations. The local wine market has also changed over the last two decades and faces stiff competition from other alcoholic beverages, mainly beer. The wine industry is now aiming to become more consumer-driven to increase wine consumption.

Although domestic per capita consumption of sparkling wine is low compared to that of still wine (0,16 litres versus 7,08 litres per person in 2017), the market is of particular interest to the industry to understand consumers’ motivations for drinking sparkling wine, and the emotional and hedonic values they attach to these wines.

The industry has grown steadily in the past decade, both in the number of new producers entering the market as well as in annual domestic sales. In 2017, South Africa had 249 MCC producers, compared with 99 in 2008. – Stellenbosch University


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