New research from Macquarie University has explored barriers to growth in the organic wine market in Australia and offered strategies for boosting its performance on shelf.
Analysis of a new international study by health economist Dr Rezwanul Rana has revealed Australians are reluctant to pay a premium for organic wine, despite it being healthier for the planet and those who drink it. So, why the lack of interest?
Dr Rana performed statistical analysis on data collected in 2019-2020 from around 2500 wine drinkers in Australia, Chile, France, Italy, the Netherlands, South Africa and the United States.
Like organic food, organic wine is relatively expensive to produce. So, the survey’s primary focus was on how much of a premium consumers would pay for it.
“A little under half of those surveyed said they would only pay US$1-$5 more for a bottle of wine that was organic,” Dr Rana said. “If they are willing to buy it at all, most consumers in all the countries surveyed would only pay slightly more for organic wine.”
It wasn’t older wine drinkers, presumably more affluent and health conscious than their younger counterparts, who were willing to pay extra for wine grown without chemical fertilisers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides and free from sulfur dioxide-based preservatives.
The top 5 markets
As IWSR notes: “Organic wine is not yet a truly global phenomenon: the top five organic wine markets – Germany, France, the UK, US, and Sweden – account for over 60% of global consumption and the top 10 account for 80%.”
So why are countries such as Australia such marginal organic drinkers?
In contrast to EU countries, new world countries are strict about organic classifications – whether any sulfur dioxide can be used is a subject of ongoing and passionate debate.
“But in countries such as the US and Australia, either no or very little sulphur dioxide is used, while in Europe they are a little more relaxed about preservatives,” Dr Rana said.
“So, in Europe, organic wines never tasted that much different to the non-organic wines people were used to.”
Dr Rana said that on top of tasting different, organic wine in new world countries was sometimes not as well crafted in the past as it is now.
“In the 1970s and 1980s, organic winemakers were making it up as they went along and the results were often suboptimal,” said Dr Rana.
“The quality of organic wines has improved dramatically, but one reason many older wine drinkers are wary of them could be bad past experiences.”
Dr Rana has four suggestions for winemakers and retailers who would like to see Australians drink more organic wine.
“Think about how organic food is positioned in supermarkets,” Dr Rana said. “Organic fruits and vegetables are prominently displayed in the fruit and vegetable section, making it easy for shoppers to notice then buy them. If you go into a bottle shop, the organic wines will often be ‘ghettoized’ in an obscure corner of the shop.”
Get the labelling right
“Europeans, who grow up in cultures that have been producing wine for centuries, are confident about buying wine,” Dr Rana said.
“Australians pay much more attention to labels. They want to be reassured by the information displayed on the label that they are buying the ‘right’ wine. Organic winemakers have shot themselves in the foot with their failure to devise and universally embrace a logo that makes it clear their wine is chemical free.”
Get the brand associations right
“Some of the world’s most prestigious winemakers now make organic wines and these wines have won many awards,” Dr Rana said.
“Yet many Australians believe organic wine is still the product of a hippy cottage industry. It needs to be made clear to them that the organic wine of 2022 is far superior to that of 1972.”
Go after the hipsters first
“The most bang for marketing buck will come from targeting young, inner-city professionals,” Dr Rana said.
“These are the consumers who want to signal that they are discerning and environmentally conscious by ordering a glass of organic wine at a restaurant. Or taking a bottle of organic wine to a friend’s barbeque. You can mock hipsters as much as you like, but they are often tastemakers for the broader population.”
Australia’s top organic wines
The winners of the 2021 Australian Organic Wine Industry Awards were announced in April. In total, 53 organic and biodynamic wine producers from 38 regions across Australia submitted 238 bottles for judging.
The record number of entries showcased 75 varieties of grapes across eight vintages, with the winners and medalists decided by a panel of wine judges including Mike Bennie, Alex McPherson, Josh Martin, Ramon Arnavas, Lilly Heenan and Millie Gosney, joined by Olivia Evans, inaugural recipient of the Australian Organic Wine Awards Associate Scholarship.
Taking home the coveted Cullen Trophy for Wine of Show and Red of Show was a full-bodied 2019 Ngeringa Single Vineyard Iluma Syrah, produced from grapes grown at an altitude of 420m on the northern slope of Mount Barker.
A young Grenache Blanc from the Barossa Valley, Tscharke Wines 2020 Gnadenfrei White, collected the White of Show trophy.
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Dr Rezwanul Rana is a health economist at Macquarie University’s Centre for the Health Economy.