The Relationship Between Culture and Consumer Behavior When It Comes to Sparkling Wine and Millennials

What images come to mind when you think of Champagne?  How about another sparkling wine like Cava, Prosecco, or Franciacorta? To many, thoughts of celebration special occasions come to mind, though depending on whom you talk to and where, the response may be slightly different.

In this digital age, we are constantly inundated with images, which are key for marketers to try and influence consumers purchase behavior.  When it comes to wine, images play a very important role in purchase decisions, as an experience good, consumers often have to take a bit of a risk when deciding to buy any given bottle.  If they have never had the wine before, or even if they haven’t had the wine from a new vintage from a familiar producer, having other information becomes more important in the purchase decision process, including visual stimuli (labels, ads, etc).

Photo courtesy Flickr user Yi Wang

Making things a bit more difficult for marketers, different groups of people are not homogenous in terms of what their interests are as well as how they perceive certain images and products in their lives.  It is well understood in the scientific literature that culture plays a large role in consumer purchase behavior, and this behavior, in turn, subsequently influences regional culture. When you have a product, such as Champagne, that has been around for centuries, over time an image of that product can develop and shape how consumers will perceive that product and thus behavior accordingly with their wallets.

In addition to culture, age also plays an important role in consumer purchase behavior, particularly in regards to wine.  In the United States, Millennials (ages 21-38) are now the largest wine drinking group in the US, catching up to the Baby Boomers (who still remain the largest group of high frequency wine drinkers) in a study by the Wine Market Council earlier this year.  What’s important to realize here, is that while more Millennials are now drinking wine than Boomers, HOW they choose the wine that ends up in their glass is different than their older counterparts, thus requiring marketers to change their strategy to reach these newer, yet influential, consumers.

One of the big differences between Millennials and Baby Boomers is their thoughts and preferences toward specific imagery in advertisements in general, and in regards to wine, their perception that it is more of a social beverage than something one enjoys at home or in private.  To complicate things even more, studies have shown vast cultural differences between Millennials in various parts of the world, making the development of an effective ad campaign different depending upon the local culture.

According to a study published in the British Food Journal last year by a group of experts located throughout the globe, there are no other studies that examine the perceptions Millennials have on wine images/advertisements. The goal of this study, therefore, was to examine the relationship between culture and consumer behavior as it relates to Millennial’s

Photo courtesy Flickr user Brendan Riley

interpretations of various images of Champagne or sparkling wine.

Brief Methodology

To look at this relationship between culture and consumer behavior in Millennials, the researchers used several focus groups in different markets in the US, UK, New Zealand, and Australia. In the US, three focus groups were located in California, and three were located in Texas, in an attempt to get a more accurate representation of the entire US Millennial market. There were three focus groups in Australia, and four in New Zealand.  Finally, in the UK, seven focus groups were located throughout the region. In all focus groups, there were 147 participants total.

During each focus group session, participants were shown six images of Champagne or sparkling wine, some which were actual advertisements and others that were just random images containing either beverage in various situations. Participants were then asked how they felt about each image, and implored them to discuss in detail their perceptions of each scene.

Recordings were made of each focus group session, which were later transcribed and analyzed by a group of six researchers. The researchers utilized previous accepted methods for analyzing this type of data, specifically known as “comparative pattern analysis”, which involved looking for common themes discussed among the participants and evaluating their meaning. Finally, cross-cultural statistical analyses were performed on the data to look for any cultural differences in the interpretations of each Champagne or sparkling wine image.

Description of the study participants

In the entire group of 147 global participants, 56% of them were women (the US had a few more men than women in their groups). 66% of participants claimed to consume wine on a weekly basis, while another 18% claimed to drink wine on a monthly basis.  The UK and Australian groups tended to drink more wine than the other groups, while the New Zealand groups tended to drink the least. 2/3 of the participants were under the age of 24, with the rest between the ages of 25 and 30. No more than 50% of participants were students.

Selected Results & Conclusions

In this type of analysis, the breadth of information that can be inferred from the results is immense.  Here are just a few of the highlights:

In general, all of the groups associated both Champagne and sparkling wine with celebrations and special occasions.

Between the four countries where the focus groups were located, the UK focus groups were the only groups that consistently made a distinction between Champagne and sparkling wine, while the other groups used the terms interchangeably.  Additionally, the UK groups more often felt that there were some situations were sparkling wine would be more appropriate than Champagne (namely, in situations they deemed “not special”) compared with the other groups.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Matthew Wilkinson

The researchers postulated that some of these differences may be related to the fact that the UK is in relative close proximity to Champagne, and has been a large import market for Champagne for a long time.  On the other hand, the other locations do not have this historical relationship and do not see Champagne in their market nearly as often, thereby Champagne would be more likely to be thought of as a comparable product to other sparkling wines that might be available in those markets.

The analysis indicated that there were two overarching “cultural values” that came about from the discussions on the images:  status, and fun.  While often a particular theme would be similar between focus groups (example: “feeling special”), how this theme was interpreted by an individual group was more varied.  For example, taking the relationship between “feeling special” and price, those falling into the “status” category would associate luxury with feeling special.  In other words, a high-priced Champagne would result in the consumer feeling special, while a cheaper sparkling wine would result in the consumer feeling less special.

On the other hand, those falling into the “fun” category, the “specialness” was in the sensation of feeling good in general, with the price of the wine not as important to feeling this way.

Overall, the results of this study confirmed that there are cultural differences between Millennials living in different parts of the world, and that how one markets advertisements for either Champagne or another sparkling wine will be different depending upon where your target market is located. Specifically, results indicated that UK Millennial consumers were more focused on tradition and heritage, and focused more on the wine itself, while Millennials in other regions were less focused on the brand and more focused on the situation and whether or not the scenario indicated a good time was being had or not.

In general, this study basically told us something we already assumed:  that there are cultural differences in how wine images or advertisements are perceived, even by consumers in the same generation.  It is important to note that the sample size in this study was relatively small (147 participants, total), so there is the possibility that the results from a given focus group is not representative of the general consumer population in that area.

I am sure that regardless of this small sample size, there are likely true differences in image interpretation and consumer behavior of Millennials of different cultures, though the more specific details of how each individual image was interpreted may or may not be representative of the general Millennial population.

Advertising campaigns tend to be most successful when properly researched and aimed at a given market of interest, and this study adds support to this theory by confirming that Millennials of different cultures view Champagne and sparkling wines in sometimes drastically different ways.  While everyone seemed to agree that both Champagne and sparkling wines in general indicated a celebration or special occasion, exactly how that should be presented varied from culture to culture.


Velikova, N., Charters, S., Fountain, J., Ritchie, C., Fish, N. and Dodd, T., 2016. Status or fun? A cross-cultural examination of young consumers’ responses to images of champagne and sparkling wine. British Food Journal, 118(8), pp.1960-1975.


1 comment for “The Relationship Between Culture and Consumer Behavior When It Comes to Sparkling Wine and Millennials

  1. March 10, 2017 at 4:55 am

    Very interesting perspective here Rebecca. I guess the conclusions are not that groundbreaking. As often in human sciences, it takes a whole lot of effort to demonstrate something everyone already knew, or was convinced about. It is great thought that it demonstrates that different demographics have different expectations when it comes to marketing and image of the wines. THanks so much for translating what would have been a VERRRY long scientific study into a clear, concise and precise 5-min read. Hats off. Julien 🙂

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