What’s in a label? The Importance of Back Label Information on Wine Purchase Intention

You’re at the grocery store.  You’re staring mindlessly into the wine aisle looking for a bottle for that special anniversary dinner you’ll be preparing later that night.  There is no one there to give you a recommendation and there are no little signs or labels mentioning which wine won which awards and got 90+ points from an influential wine guide.  How do you choose which bottle to purchase?

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With the thousands of brand names, labels, grape varieties, wine styles, and prices, there is a lot to choose from when it comes to picking out the right bottle of wine.  It comes as no surprise then, that a wine bottle purchase is associated with some perception of risk.  With a wine bottle purchase, there with it comes often some sense of fear of regret or skepticism, and when it’s a bottle purchase for special occasions, the fear increases.

For the most part, front labels of wine bottles show the most essential (and often, legal) information for the consumer; including the winery name, grape variety and origin, the vintage year, and the alcohol content.  On the other side of the bottle, the back label will often show sensory characteristics (aroma, taste, etc), winery history information, and food pairings (among other things).  According to studies, the front and back labels of the wine bottle are the most effective ways to influence consumer choice.

As of 2010, no studies have extensively examined the influence of back label information, and the study I will be reviewing for you today will be doing just that. 

In a nutshell, the objective of the current study under review (citation to follow this post) is to examine quantitatively which back label attributes are of highest value or most important to consumers.

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Taste Descriptors

Past studies have shown that sensory characteristics of the wine are among the most important attributes to include on the back label.  There are differences among consumers regarding the kind of sensory information given and what they prefer to see on the back label.  Studies have found that these differences can be put in two broad categories:  “simple” and “elaborate” taste descriptions.  Those consumers who are very experienced in wine prefer descriptions that are more elaborate (i.e. “displaying elements of dark chocolate, ripe plums, and finely chalky tannins”), whereas inexperienced or novice wine consumers prefer a more simple description (i.e. “a full-bodied red wine”).

Other information found on the back label

Studies have looked at a variety of other factors on the back labels of wine bottles, and have found conflicting results in regards to which type of information is more important to consumers.  These include how the wine was manufactured, the history of the winery, cellaring advice, and website information.  Studies have also shown that the importance of front versus back labels differ, depending upon the country in which the study was administered.  For example, a study in New Zealand found that front label information was more important when consumers were making purchase choice, whereas conversely, a study in the United States showed that the back label was actually more important.

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It has been shown that food pairing information is relatively important and influential on back labels of wine bottles.  Past studies have shown that women appreciate food pairing information more than men, though overall, it has been shown in some studies that women find back labels to be more confusing and harder to read, often with too much information listed.  Studies have also shown that income also has significant influence on the importance of food pairing information, showing that lower income earners had a higher appreciation for food pairing information that those consumers with higher incomes.  Even those some studies have shown these demographic differences, other studies have found absolutely no differences between the sexes, age, and income in regards to purchasing habits based on wine labels.

 Methods

A lot of mathematical modeling and statistical analysis was used to analyze the data collected in this study, which I’m not even going to try to touch at the moment.  Basic info is all that’s needed for this summary review post!

Basically, study participants were asked to choose from several back labels, each with a combination of specific attributes.  There were 11 different attributes in the study, which were presented on the theoretical back labels in various combinations.  Those attributes were: winery history, grape source, production information, simple taste descriptors, elaborate taste descriptors, food pairing information, cellaring advice, environmental information, website information, ingredients, and finally, price.

Paper surveys were given to study participants and were given choices of four back labels per question, of which they had to indicate their preference.  Participants were told that the purchase situation was one for a special occasion, so as to increase the sensation of impending risk, and thus invoke the use of risk reduction strategies (i.e. reading back label information).  At the end of the survey, general wine consumption questions were asked, in addition to general demographic questions.

Example of a survey question:

The individuals participating in the survey were screened according to their wine purchasing and consumption habits.  In order to qualify for the study, participants had to consume wine at least once every two weeks (side note: the study actually used the word “fortnight”!), had to consume Shiraz at least once in the previous three months, had to have purchased a bottle of red wine in the last month, and had to occasionally buy wine in the $10-$20 range.  This screening process was used so everyone in the study would be comfortable purchasing wine with these characteristics and thus not potentially interfere with the results of the survey.  The gender balance of the study participants was equal, though there were slightly more younger participants and fewer older and low educated consumers (the study was done at a major Australian university).

Results

  • Price was the most important attribute when choosing which bottle of wine to purchase.

Sociodemographics

  • There was no difference in back label choice behavior between any sociodemographic characteristic (sex, age, income, etc).
  • There was no significant difference between consumers with more or less wine experience in regards to their wine choice behavior.

Back Label Preference Classes

  • Consumers differed significantly in the relative impact of back label information on their choice and preference for specific back label attributes, with 5 major classes of individuals sharing specific back label attribute preferences
  • For consumers of the first four back label classes (with price preferences from low to med-high; C1, C2, C3, C4), specific back label attributes increased the likelihood of purchase.
  • For consumers of the fifth back label classes (13% of respondents; C5), the ingredient attribute had a large negative impact on likelihood to purchase.
  • Those consumers who strongly preferred the lower prices (C1; $13.99) valued food pairing information the most (31% of the population was in this category).
  • Those consumers preferring low to medium prices (C2; $13.99-$19.99) showed the strongest influence of back label information, and preferred information on winery history, production method, environmental production, and both simple and elaborate taste descriptors. Website information, food pairing information, and ingredients showed little to no influence on this group.
  • Those consumers preferring medium prices (C3; $19.99) were somewhat influenced by food pairing information and simple taste descriptors.
  • Those consumers preferring medium to high prices (C4; $19.99-$25.99) were most influenced by elaborate taste descriptors and history of the winery, but disliked ingredient descriptions the most.
  •  One half of wine consumers in this study use price as the sole determinant of purchase intention.
  • One third of wine consumers in this study can be positively influenced by back label information (especially winery history and elaborate taste descriptors).
  • One third of wine consumers in this study are negatively affected by the presence of ingredients on back labels, with about 13% of consumers flat out refusing to purchase wine with labels including that type of information.

What does this all mean?

The results of this study seem to indicate that there is no easy answer to the question of what exactly to put on the back label in order to maximize the purchase potential of a bottle of wine.  What is clear from this study is that there are several different groups of individuals, who within each group, share very similar preference characteristics for back label attributes, and thus different back labels could be created for each group. 

In order to maximize purchase potential for bottles of wine based on back label information alone, the following strategies could be used, based on what this study found:

·         For lower priced wine, back label information should include food pairings, elaborate taste descriptors, environment production information, and winery history information.

·         For medium and higher priced wines, back label information should include food pairings, elaborate taste descriptors, and winery history information.

It appears from this study that winery history information was always a positive influence on wine purchase choice, and should thereby always be included on the back label regardless of price point.

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Ingredient information often had a negative influence on purchase intention, of which the exact reason why is unknown.  It is possible that displaying chemical information of the wine (i.e. “This product contains diammonium phosphates, bentonites, and pectionolitic enzymes”, all of which are used in the wine making process) confuses people when originally they viewed wine as being a healthy product.  When faced with strange chemical names, they might assume the wine is unnatural and unhealthy, which is perceived as contradictory to all of the positive health information they may have heard in the past.

Keep in mind…

The results of this study may not be universal and may only be representative of a specific group of wine consumers from a specific corner of the world.  The results shown here may be accurate for wine consumers in Australia, but could be much different in other parts of the world such as Spain, the United States, or China.

Also, the design of the study was solely focused on back label information, though it has been shown that front label information also has a huge influence on purchase intention as well.  All front label information being equal, the results of this study may be completely accurate, however, as we all know, there are thousands of different front labels of wine, which could significantly chance the results. 

All other things being equal, this study gives a nice analysis of what is most important on the back labels of wine bottles and should not be sneezed at.  The next step would be to take what is now known about back label information preferences, and tie it in with front label information preferences, with analysis of purchase intention only after both have been taken into consideration, in order to get a complete understanding of how consumers chose wine bottles to purchase.

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I’d love to hear what you all think about this topic!  Feel free to comment below!

Full citation of the article of discussion today:

Mueller, S., Lockshin, L., Saltman, Y., and Blanford, J. 2010. Message on a bottle: The relative influence of wine back label information on wine choice. Food Quality and Preference 21: 22-32.
I am not a health professional, nor do I pretend to be. Please consult your doctor before altering your alcohol consumption habits. Do not consume alcohol if you are under the age of 21. Do not drink and drive. Enjoy responsibly!

6 comments for “What’s in a label? The Importance of Back Label Information on Wine Purchase Intention

  1. Paul
    July 15, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    How about an example of back label "ingredients".

  2. July 15, 2011 at 5:37 pm

    Thanks for reading, Paul!

    Examples of what ingredients might be listed on the back label would include not just grapes, but also the chemicals involved in the wine making process. So, these could include things like sulfur dioxide, tartaric acid, yeast, diammonium phosphate, bentonite, pectinolyctic enzymes, etc. To someone unfamiliar with the wine making process, seeing these ingredients may or may not turn them off from purchasing the bottle if to them seeing chemical names listed as ingredients in their food/beverages is a negative association (even if they are perfectly safe for consumption).

  3. October 2, 2012 at 7:56 am

    Unlike many food products, the trouble with ingredients when it comes to wine is that a lot of the things you add are not present in the finished product. Many get transformed in the fermentation process, or in the case of fining agents settle out or are filtered out. If all additives are listed, some term other than ingredients needs to be invented, and consumers are going to need to be quite siphisticated to understand the implications.

    • Becca
      October 2, 2012 at 9:23 am

      That’s an excellent point, Steve! Certainly “ingredients” change during the fermentation and aging process, which makes creating an appropriate label for the wines very difficult. I agree as well that the word “ingredient” isn’t really the best fit for some of these compounds, as they aren’t exactly being added in by the winemaker.

  4. Emily Blott
    October 2, 2012 at 9:10 am

    Dear Academic Wino,

    Very thorough article on back labels. I write for The Horse’s Mouth blog (Excelsior Wine Estate) and have just written on a similar topic and shared your article.

    Kind regards, Emily

    http://excelsiorwineblog.wordpress.com/

    • Becca
      October 2, 2012 at 9:19 am

      Hi Emily,

      Thank you very much for including my post in your recent article on The Horse’s Mouth blog! I actually saw it this morning through an alert, and tweeted about it! Hopefully that tweet will bring you a little extra traffic!

      Cheers!

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