Monday, January 7, 2019

The rise of the USA as the world's biggest wine consumer

Following last week's cautionary post (Is there truth in wine numbers?), we can now contemplate a few wine numbers about the USA and its position in the wine world.

Any given country's wine consumption is a product of the amount of wine each (adult) person consumes per year and the number of people in that country. To be No. 1, a country can either have a lot of people or they can each consume a lot of wine, or both. The USA is the third most populous country on the planet, after China and India, neither of which consumes a lot of wine per person (yet).

So, the idea that the USA is the No. 1 wine consumer is not unexpected. However, the question is when did it become No. 1? As the first graph shows, this event did not occur until very recently.

Top wine-consuming countries 1865-2014

The data are taken from Global Wine Markets, 1860 to 2016: a Statistical Compendium, compiled by Kym Anderson, Signe Nelgen and Vicente Pinilla. The graph covers the years 1865-2014 (horizontally), showing the estimated percentage of global wine consumption (vertically) for those countries that either currently account for >5% of the consumption or have accounted for >10% at some time in the past.

The graph makes it very clear that the patterns of wine consumption have changed dramatically over the past 150 years for many countries. This is not a result of changing population sizes (which have all grown), but instead reflects changes in per person (per capita) wine consumption. These changes are shown in the second graph.

Top wine-consuming countries per capita 1865-2014

Both France and Spain have shown a slow decline in consumption per person since the 1950s, although France also had particularly notable dips during both World War I and WWII. Italy's decline per person actually dates from the 1960s, although there were erratic changes in consumption during WWI. By contrast, Germany's rise in consumption dates from the end of WWII. The rise in per person consumption in the USA dates from the end of Prohibition, not unexpectedly. The only major wine-consuming country missing from the second graph is Portugal, which actually showed an increase in per person consumption until the end of WWII, followed by a slow decline starting in the mid 1970s.

So, the declining consumption in France and Italy combined with the rising consumption in the USA, finally resulting in the US taking the global lead in total consumption from the year 2010 onwards.

If you want to see some forecasts for the possible future of US wine consumption, they are discussed in 2019 U.S. alcohol consumption to increase while population growth stagnates.

Also shown on the second graph above (as the dashed line) is the consumption for Croatia, which had the globally highest per capita rate in 2014. Indeed, the per person consumption in Croatia has remained steady since the 1980s, unlike the western European countries discussed so far. Spanish per person consumption dropped below the current (Croatian) maximum way back in 1984, followed by the Italians in 2005, and the French and Portugese in 2013. The other two countries who currently match the Croatians, Portugese, French and Italians in their love of wine are the Moldovians and the Swiss.

Finally, it is worth illustrating just how far out in front the top three countries are, in terms of per person consumption. The final graph shows the per capita consumption (vertically) for the top 37 countries (ranked horizontally).

As you can see, all of the countries fit a nice simple (linear) mathematical model except the top three, where the people are still consuming far more wine per person than anywhere else.


  1. It is interesting to note that in the Western World there seems to be a trend toward some sort of "globalisation of taste". Countries appear to be getting closer to each other in terms of per capita consumption. Wine consumption in latin countries, historically the big per capita consumers, is dropping dramatically. Meanwhile, the non-latins are rising, and all seem to be approaching the overall average. The opposite seems to be happening in beer consumption, with the latins increasing their per capita numbers and the non-latins decreasing.

    1. This phenomenon is called "regression to the mean" — in the absence of any other effect, things tend to become more uniform through time. The wine world is currently exhibiting this, although it may be accelerated by globalization. Maybe something will come along to disrupt it?