Putting Wine Awards on The Bottle: A Study on Consumer Purchase Behavior

Over the years, we’ve seen a proliferation of the number of wine competitions and wine awards that are out there.  Many years ago, there might have been just a small handful of competitions, while nowadays, it is impossible to keep track of how many are out there.  It appears everyone and their mother has hosted a wine competition, and often all it takes to win a medal is to show up and don’t make the judges spit the wine back out in disgust.

When attempting to select a wine(s) at the store, many studies have examined the effect of extrinsic cues (i.e. brand, vintage, grape(s), country of origin, other label information) on wine selection and purchase, with wine awards included in those cues.  The results, so far, have

Photo courtesy Flickr user Ben Tsai

been mixed. Some studies have found that wine awards are relatively low on the scale of importance, while others found wine awards much higher on this scale when it comes down to wine purchase selection.

So, are displaying wine awards on a bottle of wine effective in getting people to purchase the wine?  Or do people not care? Or does the overabundance of wine awards actually turn people off from buying a given wine? The answer, according to a new study published in the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, is somewhat complicated, and is not an all-or-nothing sort of thing.

Brief Methods

To examine the effect of wine awards on purchase behavior, a group from the University of Otago (New Zealand) performed a qualitative study using focus groups to gain a better understanding of how consumers perceive wine awards on a bottle, and how these awards influence their purchase decisions in the store.

A total of 4 focus groups took place between November 2011 and June 2012 in Dunedin, New Zealand. Each focus group was recorded and lasted about an hour and a half.  The primary researcher of the study moderated the discussions, and used a specific set of questions as an outline/guide to get through each session. Questions avoided using leading questions (non-directive).

44 people participated in this study, with exactly half of them men and half women. Prior to the focus group sessions, participants completed screening questionnaires to determine their involvement or familiarization with wine, as well as socio-demographics.  Participants were placed in specific focus groups based upon their answers to the wine involvement questionnaire.

Within each focus group, there was a mix of participants self-reporting as experts, high involvement consumers, medium involvement consumers, low involvement consumers, and wine beginners. (Note: a “high involvement consumer” might be someone considered to be very knowledgeable and interested in wine, while a “low involvement consumer” might be someone with little knowledge of wine). Not all categories were represented in every single focus group.

During the focus group sessions, questioning started with an “ice-breaker” to try and encourage everyone to participate, then the conversations continued based upon questions related to general food and beverage awards in New Zealand, participants’ use of wine awards when making a purchase decision, and participants’ general awareness of how many wine awards are out there.

Selected Results

  • Three primary themes emerged from the focus groups:
    • A sense of skepticism from the considerable number of wine awards out there.
    • Concern over the confusing and sometimes misleading nature of wine awards.
    • Concern over the lack of transparency in wine awards.
  • Regarding the skepticism of the large number of wine awards out there:
    • Participants mentioned that they often see more wine bottles in the store with wine award stickers than without.
    • Some participants though the wine award stickers were present just to make the bottles “look prettier”.
    • Those with higher levels of involvement said that in the past, a wine award would have meant the wine was high quality, but now with the sheer number of wine awards out there, the presence of a wine award sticker on the bottle could mean nothing at all.

Quoting a medium-involvement consumer:

“Ten years ago, I would go into the supermarket and see a bottle with an award and think that has an award and that must be good. Whereas now, I’m a bit more cynical around those labels I have to say…yes, it is my growing knowledge that allows me to be more cynical.”

  • Some participants said they don’t trust a wine award on a bottle because of a “lack of awareness” of the given award.
  • Photo courtesy Flickr user Ruth Hartnup

    Regarding the concern over “confusing or misleading nature” of wine awards:

    • Participants mentioned that they often see a wine award on the bottle, and buy it without paying attention to what the award was for. Then, when they got home and read the award, they realized it was something meaningless and therefore felt misled.

Quoting a high-involvement consumer:

“The bottle had a trophy sticker but by reading the label it said that it was the best wine with pizza award.”

  • Other participants were confused over the nature of a given award—for example, the award may have said it was for the vineyard and not specifically the wine.
  • Regarding the concern over the lack of transparency in wine awards:
    • Some participants wished they knew who the judges were for a given wine award, as that might help them determine how to interpret the results.
    • Some high- and medium-involvement consumers said there wasn’t enough information present regarding who the judges were and the criteria they used for assigning awards to a given wine.
      • This concern was greater when a more expensive bottle was being considered.
    • Wine beginners showed no interest in the wine judging process or how wine awards were handed out for a given competition.
  • How wine awards were used by consumers in the decision-making process:
    • Despite all the concerns and criticisms of wine awards made by the focus group participants, all of them said that they do use wine awards in their decision-making process. HOW they used them differed from involvement level to involvement level.
    • High-involvement consumers tended to consider only the more prestigious wine awards in their purchase decision process.
    • Most medium-involvement consumers, some low-involvement consumers, and all wine beginners tended to use wine awards as a guide to help them select a wine they didn’t know anything about or a special occasion wine.
    • Some low-involvement consumers and all wine beginners tended to be drawn to a wine award because the sticker made the bottle “look nice”.
    • Some medium- and low-involvement consumers used wine awards when choosing a wine that was on sale or was in a cheaper price range.

Quoting a medium-involvement consumer:

“I put more focus on the price at the moment, but if there are two wines in similar prices and one has got an award, I will be more tempted to go for the awards, but if it costs more, I wouldn’t.”

  • Some medium- and low-involvement consumers used wine awards when choosing a wine as a gift for someone when they wouldn’t necessarily trust their own judgment.
  • Low-involvement consumers and wine beginners were not willing to pay more for a wine with an award, as they claimed these wines were too expensive to begin with.
  • Some medium-involvement consumers said they would be willing to pay more for a wine with an award, as to them, the award indicated higher quality.
  • High- and medium-involvement consumers were rather selective in the wine awards they used to consider for their purchase, with the more prestigious awards being the more influential.
  • Gold medals were more influential than silver or bronze for all involvement levels.
  • Silver and bronze medals were viewed with caution, and the wine quality often left questionable.

Quoting a medium-involvement consumer:

“Now, I see a bronze for ‘that’s what they got for turning up’…everybody who entered gets bronze.”

Conclusions

Overall, the results of this study suggest that while there appears to be a lot of skepticism and concern over the use of wine awards on a bottle of wine, people from all wine experience levels use them in some way, shape, or form, to come to a final decision in their wine purchasing process.  However, exactly how these awards are used to influence their wine purchase decisions differ between wine experience.

The more experienced a consumer is, the more likely they are to only consider the most prestigious wine awards in their purchase, and ignore all other award labels on the bottle.  All consumers tended to think that anything less than a gold was suspicious, and that a silver or bronze medal doesn’t provide any useful information regarding the overall quality of the wine in that bottle.

Photo By Véronique PAGNIER (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Regarding the skepticism of the large number of wine awards out there, if the focus is on more knowledgeable consumers, the researchers suggested that wineries may want to consider only entering more prestigious wine competitions, or only put awards from those competitions that are more well-known on the bottle.  Additionally, if the wine won anything less than a gold, the winery might want to consider leaving this information off the bottle all together, as it may have a negative influence on the purchase behavior of consumers.

Regarding the concern over “confusing or misleading nature” of wine awards, I have to say some of this is the consumers’ fault.  Too lazy to read the label there in the store?  Not the wineries fault that you felt “cheated” after learning the award was because your wine won the award for the best wine for pairing with pizza. Is this still a little slimy on the part of the winery? Sure, but I think the blame can be spread out a bit here.

Also, having an award sticker on the bottle that indicates that the vineyard won an award, but not mentioning the wine didn’t receive this award is a little shady, yes, but the consumer should be able to read that and make their own decisions thusly.

There are times, that weren’t mentioned in study, when retailers might include award information in the description card for the wine that turns out to be from a different vintage year than the one they are currently selling, which is certainly misleading (and might even been illegal in places?). Again, the consumer technically should stop to read the fine print here, but it is certainly a smarmy move on the part of the retailer and I would strongly advise against doing that if the retailer wishes to establish trust with their patrons.

Regarding the concern over the lack of transparency in wine awards, the researchers suggested that based upon the results of this study, greater transparency about the wine award and the competition itself might help improve the chances of purchase from those in the more wine educated groups.  Of course, if your target market is beginners or low-involvement consumers, then this information would be unnecessary.

The results of this study show that while most (NZ) consumers expressed concern or skepticism over wine awards, they all use them in some way to aid their purchase decisions (“say one thing, do another”). The results could be valuable for wineries and marketers, and depending upon the consumer and their level of wine involvement the winery intends to target with their wine, this study suggests that there are different ways to approach presenting wine awards on bottles that will help improve the chances of selling that bottle.

For future research, it would be interesting to see this study repeated using a larger cohort of people from different areas of the world. Do US, French, Australian, or any other culture feel the same way about wine awards as the New Zealanders did in this study? It would be very interesting to see.

Source:

Neuninger, R., Mather, D., and Duncan, T. 2017. Consumer’s scepticism of wine awards: A study of consumers’ use of wine awards. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services 35: 98-105.

NOTE IN REGARDS TO COMMENTS:  I encourage you to leave your comments!  Be advised, I may not respond quickly due to a certain toddler in my house, but please feel free to email me a nudge me if you don’t see your comment approved within a day.  (becca@academicwino.com)  I have been having technical difficulties with many comments going straight to trash, so I am unaware of any pending comments until I physically go in there and look.

5 comments for “Putting Wine Awards on The Bottle: A Study on Consumer Purchase Behavior

  1. April 6, 2017 at 9:45 am

    fantastic article. We wrote a post about a similar topic. In terms of decision making, are scores or awards more influential. We got basically the same results from our little survey. Inconclusive. Some people don’t pay attention, some people like scores better, some like awards. Although the concept of so many competitions did come up. I think you could enter a competition almost on a daily basis! We chose to only submit to the SF Chronicle this year. We believe that is one of the most prestigious. I would love to know which competitions vie for the “prestigious” ones to the consumer.

  2. April 6, 2017 at 11:06 am

    Great piece. I had this same thought when reviewing some of Taylor’s/Wakefield wines because (as the pic shows) those bottles are absolutely loaded down with wine award stickers!

  3. Wine Guy
    April 6, 2017 at 11:32 am

    Long ago awards were helpful in marketing our wines. That faded over the years as customers decided they had little meaning. At the same time, the costs of entering competitions increased (and if you won Gold, you had to drop an increasing amount of wine on the after events which resulted in no sales etc.). We retired from that practice with a substantial pile of medals. My conclusion is that it is a waste of time, cash and wine to participate. Also, the consistency of judging is spotty at best. Our favorite: “Typicity” comments. Total BS for the most part but a favorite of international (I.E. Brit) judges.

  4. TFG
    April 9, 2017 at 9:55 pm

    Long ago awards were helpful in marketing our wines. That faded over the years as customers decided they had little meaning. At the same time, the costs of entering competitions increased (and if you won Gold, you had to drop an increasing amount of wine on the after events which resulted in no sales etc.). We retired from that practice with a substantial pile of medals. My conclusion is that it is a waste of time, cash and wine to participate. Also, the consistency of judging is spotty at best. Our favorite: "Typicity" comments. Total BS for the most part but a favorite of international (I.E. Brit) judges..

  5. Sean
    April 10, 2017 at 4:15 pm

    Whenever someone asks my opinion of wine awards, I tell them to look at a bottle of Barefoot, whose cheap, unpleasant (in my experience) wines of often nebulous origin and composition always have a label covered in medals. If this wine can be a multiple winner, awards have no meaning.

What do you think about this topic?