Factors that Impact Mid-Atlantic Wine Consumer Purchasing Decisions

By: Jen Zelinskie and Dr. Kathy Kelley

In February, Jen published the first blog based on her thesis research. If you have not read it yet, we invite you to do so by clicking on this link: http://bit.ly/1UR1ABX.

That blog post provided the following data:

  • number of participants in each wine consumption frequency segment (super core, core, and marginal),
  • percent of participants in each of these segments that were in each age group (e.g. 21 to 24 years of age, 25 to 34 years of age) and resided in each of the three targeted states (New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania), and
  • how often (e.g. “at least two to three times a month,” “about once a month,” “a few times a year”) participants in each segment (super core, core and marginal) purchased 750mL bottles of wine.

Today’s post describes what impacts the wine our participants purchase.  As a reminder, data was collected from 847 consumers who participated in an Internet survey conducted November 30 to December 1, 2015.


Screenshot 2016-06-10 12.53.07

What influences consumers when they select wine: Results from a national study

A survey involving 1,072 wine consumers across the nation was conducted in May 2015 by Sonoma State University and the Wine Business Institute to determine what influenced wine purchases.  According to their study, “the two most important factors American wine consumers use [when deciding which wine to purchase] are price (72%), followed by brand (67%)” (http://bit.ly/1Qv74zm).

With a main goal of our research to understand what influences Mid-Atlantic wine consumers to purchase they wine they consume, we included a similar set of questions in our survey, but we asked participants to respond based on purchasing wine to be consumed in the home during two separate occasions:

  • “everyday” wine (wine consumed on an average day) and
  • wine consumed on “special occasions and/or when entertaining.”

What influences participants when they select the everyday wine and wine consumed when celebrating special occasions and/or when entertaining in their own home?

The majority of our participants responded that they consumed wine in their home on everyday occasions and when celebrating special occasions and/or when entertaining (92.9 and 96.9%, respectively). These individuals were then asked to select, from a list of factors, what influenced each of these purchasing decisions.

As shown in Figures 1 and 2, below, “tasted/purchased the wine before” was the top factor that influenced participants to purchase both the everyday wine and wine consumed when celebrating special occasions and/or when entertaining. Nearly three-quarters of participants (72.1 and 72.2%, respectively) selected this factor as influencing their decision.

Screenshot 2016-06-15 10.25.39Screenshot 2016-06-10 12.41.38

“Price of wine” and “brand of wine” were the second and third most selected factors.  While 62.2% of participants were influenced by the “price of wine” when selecting what they would purchase for “special occasions and/or when entertaining,” 71.0% of participants indicated that this influenced their purchasing decision when selecting the everyday wine.   However, pertaining to “brand of wine,” 60.4% of participants indicated that this factor influenced the wine they purchased for special occasions and/or when entertaining and 58.4% selected it as a factor that influenced their everyday wine purchases.

While the top four factors were the same, and “varietal” was among the top six for both occasions, one factor did differ between the two occasions.  “Bottle of wine is on sale” was a factor that influenced 37.2% of those who consumed wine for everyday consumption and “food that will be consumed with the wine” influenced 41.5% of those who purchased wine for special occasions and/or when entertaining in their home.

As you well know, consuming a specific wine with certain foods is often suggested as providing the wine drinker with the best experience.  Numerous wine and food pairing guidelines can be found online and even on the back label of some wine bottles.

Why might you encourage your customers and tasting room visitors to really consider the wine they select when planning the menu for their evening meal and when planning their next dinner party? According to Williams-Sonoma’s guide to food and wine pairings, “great wine and food pairings either emphasize the similarities or highlight the differences between the wine and food;” however, wine consumers should be encourage to experiment with different combinations to bring out desired aromas and flavors in the food and wine (http://bit.ly/21axwRP).

Furthermore, scientific research explains that, in combination “animal fats and astringent chemicals, like tannins or acids in wine, react with each other to produce a sensation that is just right.” This explains why some foods pair well with certain wines and also “may explain why a wine might seem different when tasted without food than it does during a meal” (http://bit.ly/1RXkFfo).

Varietal wines purchased and prices paid for wine purchased for the two occasions 

Based on data presented at the 2015 London Wine Fair concerning what varietal wines U.S. consumers drink, based on sales volume, Chardonnay accounts for 19.4% of sales volume, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon (13.3%), Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris (8.8), and Merlot (8.3%) (http://bit.ly/1OeKM6R).

Regarding price, the Silicon Valley Bank Wine Division State of the Wine Industry 2016 predicts that within the next several years “consumers will push premium-ization” and that sales of wine priced $10 to $20 will increase and sales of wine between three and six dollars will decrease (http://bit.ly/1Tr2FyR).

So, what about our participants’ purchases? 

Consumers who participated in the November/December 2015 survey were provided with a list of 18 different wine varietals and asked to select which one(s) they typically purchase for to consume during the two occasions. Figure 3 displays the top eight varietals selected.

Based on our data, approximately half (range of 49.2 to 55.1%) of our participants purchased Merlot, Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon on special occasions and/or when entertaining.  These four varietals were also the top four purchased for everyday occasions, though the percents were slightly lower (range of 41.0 to 48.3%).

Hence, we do see some similarities between our data and data collected on a national scale, but the order does differ slightly.  We also recognize that Vitis labrusca varietals are important for many of the wineries and tasting rooms in the Mid-Atlantic, so we also included these varietals in the list.

Though less than one-third of participants purchased Concord for both occasions, slightly more participants purchased this varietal to consume everyday (29.6%) compared to purchasing it for special occasions and/or when entertaining (26.7%).  Purchases of other V. labrusca for everyday consumption and for special occasions and/or when entertaining were as follows:

  • Niagara (19.1 and 16.3%, respectively)
  • Catawba (10.5 and 10.2%, respectively)
  • Delaware (9.0 and 8.3%, respectively)1.


Screenshot 2016-06-10 12.41.58

Pertaining to prices paid for wine served during special occasions and/or when entertaining, slightly less than one-third of participants indicated that they paid between $11.00 to $14.99 (30.8%) and $15.00 to $19.99 (32.0%).  For both occasions, as the price range increased the percent of participants reporting that they purchase wine in the ranges decreased.

Figure 4 shows the percent of individuals who purchased wine in each price range based on whether the wine was purchased for everyday consumption or when celebrating a special occasion and/or when entertaining.


Screenshot 2016-06-15 10.25.13To further understand Mid-Atlantic wine consumer purchasing and consumption attitudes and behaviors, a second Internet survey was conducted between March 21 and 23, 2016 and involved 847 individuals.  Of the questions asked, participants selected the price range(s) that correspond to what they pay for wine to be consumed in their home.

As you can in Figure 4, based on our survey data, slightly less than 40% of our participants purchased wine priced between $8.00 and $10.99 (39.7%) and $11.00 to $14.99 (37.9%).

Our data corresponds well to what is reported in the Silicon Valley Bank Wine Division State of the Wine Industry report, which states that that “largest growth patterns in premium wines by price segment are wines in the $8 to $15 range, particularly chardonnay, cabernet, and red blends” (http://bit.ly/1Tr2FyR).

Overall, past experiences with a certain wine (having tasted/purchased it before) was one of the top factors that influenced our participants’ wine purchasing decisions, followed by brand, price of wine, and recommendations provided by family members/friends.

While wine varietal was another leading influencer, less than half of participants (41.7% for everyday wine and 39.1% for wine purchased for special occasion and/or when entertaining) selected this as an influencing factor.  Although some consumers may prefer a certain varietal and continue to purchase it again and again, others may be looking to try something new.

This is important to keep in mind as members of the Millennial generation are considered to be “more adventurous” more likely to agree with statements like, “I think it is fun to try out new wines I am not familiar with” and “I like to try the most unusual wines, even if I’m not sure I will like them” compared to older generations (http://bit.ly/24C5rFB).

Tasting room staff should strive to learn about how certain factors influence a visitor’s purchasing decision.  If there are differences, for example, between what they would spend on a bottle of wine to consume during an average day and what they would spend when selecting the wine for other occasions, they can then use this information to suggest a wine most appropriate for the intended use.

Similarly, questions pertaining to what influences purchasing decisions should also be included in wine club membership forms and occasional surveys.  Responses to these questions can then be the foundation for additional promotional efforts, newsletter articles, social media posts, and similar.


Other Researcher & Jennifer Zelinskie’s Thesis Advisory Team:

  • Jeffrey Hyde, Professor, Agricultural Economics, The Pennsylvania State University
  • Denise Gardner, Extension Enologist, Department of Food Science, The Pennsylvania State University
  • Brad Rickard, Assistant Professor, Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University
  • Ramu Govindasamy, Professor, Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics, Rutgers University
  • Karl Storchmann, Clinical Professor, Economics Department, New York University; Managing Editor, Journal of Wine Economics
  • Michela Centinari, Assistant Professor of Viticulture, Departemnt of Plant Science, The Pennsylvania State University

The project “Developing Wine Marketing Strategies for the Mid-Atlantic Region” (GRANT 11091317) is being funded by a USDA Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program grant, whose goal is “to assist in exploring new market opportunities for U.S. food and agricultural products and to encourage research and innovation aimed at improving the efficiency and performance of the marketing system.”  For more information about the program, visit http://www.ams.usda.gov.

1We thank Demi Perry, former Penn State graduate student in the Food Science Department, for identifying the Vitis labrusca varieties to include in the survey.


2 responses to “Factors that Impact Mid-Atlantic Wine Consumer Purchasing Decisions”

  1. Tim Martinson says :

    Nice article – but lets be careful with our use of the term ‘varietal’. Grapevines are ‘varieties’, ‘varietal wines’ are wines made from different grape varieties. There are many wines that are not ‘varietal wines’ – many concord and hybrid wines would fit in this category. They are not marketed based on the grape variety itself – ‘Svenska Red’ is one that fits in this category, as does ‘Red Cat’ – even if we know that one of them is Concord based and the other one has Catawba in it.

    VARIETAL does not equal VARIETY. It is shorthand for ‘varietal wine’. Grapes are not varietals.

    • psuenology says :

      Thanks, Tim! A common mistake made often in wine literature. Even using the term “varietal” with regards to wine has various opinions based on what would be considered a “varietal.” As a reference, I use the term “varietal wine” if the wine is majority (+/- 51%) or 100% a specific grape variety, especially if it is labeled as a varietal. However, good eye on the variety vs. varietal terms. We will return to the article and edit it. Thanks for your continued support! Best, Denise

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: