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December 03, 2009
The Green Wine Summit: Wine Consumers are Positive About Sustainability
by Rachel Nichols

The organic wine segment has grown 12.1 percent while table wine has grown just 3.3 percent in the last 52 weeks, Brian Lechner, director of client services for The Nielsen Company, said at The Green Wine Summit on Wednesday.

The second annual Summit, attracting over 300 attendees to the Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel in Santa Rosa, Calif., is a day-long wine industry forum and showcase that explores every aspect of green, from soil to marketplace. Lechner said that consumers are positive about sustainability in the wine industry but have lots of questions. Many consumers are also seeking definitions of what sustainability really means, bringing a tremendous opportunity for strong consistent leadership to help consumers sort between definitions.

Christian Miller of Full Glass Research agreed, saying that there is increased confusion on what sustainability means. Miller compared survey data about consumer perceptions of sustainability from 2007 and 2009 during the Summit’s general session. The survey showed the following:

  • Reasons for buying organic/sustainable wines: 59 percent in 2009 compared to 49 percent in 2007 said because it is better for the earth or environment.
  • Why I don’t purchase organic/sustainable wines: 38 percent in 2009 compared to 49 percent in 2007 said it’s because the rarely see it on the market while 33 percent in 2009 compared to 18 percent in 2007 said it’s because they don’t care.

Consumers are confused and so are many of the “experts” they are listening to, said Peter Granoff, partner in Ferry Plaza Merchants. And they are not just confused about terms and meanings but about who they can trust to give them correct answers. Consumers listening to consumers muddies the water, Granoff said. What we do need, said Granoff, is credible consistent standards, more wineries referencing “organically grown” on labels, more biodynamic certifications and simple, explanatory flyers for staff and customers.

Navigating Paradigm Shifts

In an afternoon break out session, a panel of industry experts spoke about the simultaneous paradigm shifts in media and green practices. “Social media is perfect for green business,” Joey Shepp, founder of Earthsite.com and Open Brands said.

Digital social media allows marketers to move from promoting and educating to engaging in dialogue and conversations with consumers, said Laura Levy-Shatkin, VP strategic development, Vista Internationals and president of WinePeeks.tv.

Heidi Paul, founder of Freerun Technologies and Winecountry.com, said the challenge with social media is to know where to put your time and resources. She said wineries need to define their message and create a different message for different venues. List your possible avenues and define how all outlets work together. Also, understand the pros and cons of each avenue, including the hard costs, staff availability and cost, required frequency and legalities.

“Social media is not expensive but it does take time,” Shepp said. He said wineries must move from mass messaging to more targeted, individual messaging or “customerization.” What’s more, Paul said wineries must slice and dice delivery vehicles by demographic as well. Wineries must have the appropriate message for both the target audience and vehicle. “Each vehicle may need a different message to be maximized.” There’s lots of opportunity but throwing the same thing out over and over again is overload, Paul said.

Green Packaging

In another break out session, a panel discussed progress and challenges in green packaging. Jay Scripter, VP of Sustainability for Owens-Illinois said LCA (Life Cycle Analysis) calculations provide apples to apples comparisons and a model for comparing all packaging types.

According to a consumer survey on wine packaging, consumers believe that glass is the best packaging material, said Steve Rhea of Saint Gobain Containers. He said the U.S. glass container industry has committed to increase the recycle content of their products to greater than 50 percent by 2013.

Debbie Dawson, director of new business development for Tetra Pak, Inc. said that their packaging is not meant to replace traditional packaging but to offer consumers an option. She said alternative packaging can be a challenge in a tradition and image-driven market but that one path to drive growth is to make wine convenient—an informal beverage. Alternative packaging such as the Tetra Pak has a small carbon footprint, is fuel efficient and minimizes waste. “The industry is truly headed in the right direction,” Dawson concluded.

Other sessions included Green Sales and Marketing, Carbon’s Green Future, Supporting the Social E, and Mastering Green through Nanopractices, and more than 60 speakers participated in these panel discussions. Lesley Berglund and Mack Schwing co-chaired the event. Next year’s Green Wine Summit will take place in November 2010. For more information, visit www.greenwinesummit.com.

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