Monday, June 1, 2020

Reporting of wine-industry reports: accuracy or exaggeration?

As a scientist, I am often intrigued by commentary in the popular press concerning the contents of formal scientific reports. It is clear that several things can happen: the reporter gets it roughly right, which has happened recently for much of the Covid-19 reporting; the reporter has not really understood things, and distorts the information, often badly; or the reporter simply exaggerates the whole thing, presumably for some sensationalist purpose of their own.

It is not really any different in the wine industry. There are a number of organizations conducting industry surveys, and providing what are usually called "insights" in a subsequent report. These reports are then summarized by the online wine media, sometimes accurately and sometimes not.

Having mentioned Covid-19, I will note that Wine Intelligence has recently started releasing a set of reports that they call the Covid-19 Impact Series. These are based on formal customer surveys in a range of important wine markets, both before and after the pandemic, to assess the impact of changing customer behavior. In April and May they released reports on Australia, the USA, the UK, Portugal, France, and China; upcoming reports will be on Japan (June), and the Netherlands, and Germany (July). The publishers note that:
The first three Covid-19 Impact Reports from Wine Intelligence have focused on the English-speaking markets of Australia, the US, and the UK. Comparing the data shows some remarkable consistencies, but some equally interesting contrasts.
Both the report for Australia and the one for the USA have generated some commentary in the general wine media. The conclusions seem to vary from quite accurate to wildly exaggerated.

In the first category we might include this quite extensive headline from Wine Industry Network Advisor: New Wine Intelligence COVID-19 Impact Report reveals Australian wine consumption is holding up but spend per bottle is down with many wine drinkers being cautious about going out once lockdown is over. You don't even need to read the rest of the article!

In the second category we might include their equally extensive headline regarding the USA report: US drinkers have increased wine consumption during lockdown, led by more involved drinkers, as interest in locally produced wine surges. The last word in that heading is based on the following graph, illustrating one survey response. I am sure that the wineries are happy with the small increase in interest, but it is along way from a surge. Mind you, it is better than the results for foreign wines, which all showed a decrease.

Even more interesting is this headline from 1WineDude: We’re a bunch of lushes. The author, Joe Roberts, might be this, but I am not sure about the rest of us. In defense of his opinion, he notes these reported survey results:

Now, 9.3 wine occasions per month equates to having a glass (or two) of wine with your dinner every 3.3 days. Increasing the occasions to 9.7 per month equates to once every 3.1 days, which is a 4% increase in frequency. Such people are not lushes. Myself, I am likely to have wine with dinner twice per week, which is obviously once every 3.5 days; but I am an old man, and cannot behave like young people. When I was a university undergraduate student, it could easily have been five times per week; but the quality of the wines was much worse, of course.

Of much more interest to the US wine industry are some of the other survey results in the Wine Intelligence report. I will not exaggerate them, but simply reproduce them. In each case, click on the image to see it properly.

First, the good news: wine sales are up, (but not as much as bottled water).

Now, the bad news: social drinking occasions as not going to re-appear too soon.

Finally, the even worse news: boosting savings is now top priority, not spending money.

So, no-one is expecting the US wine industry to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic anytime soon.