A concept whose time has come

Wednesday, 2 February, 2005
Jeanine Wardman
A lot is being said in the States at the moment about ethnic minorities and the Californian wine industry’s sluggishness in strategically targeting these as potentially viable consumer categories. Nowhere do these sentiments resonate stronger and more ironically than on home turf, writes Jeanine Wardman.
Last week Tim Moran reported on Modbee.com that at the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium (UWGS) in Sacramento, the Californian wine industry was urged to consider the young upcoming Latino market and its potential as a growth segment for a product that has hitherto remained almost exclusively white and male. Speaking of gender and wine, a Boston-based wine tasting club calling themselves Divas Uncorked has generated an enormous amount of publicity since announcing a business venture with California’s Hess, St. Supéry and Parducci wineries. The aim of the Divas Uncorked Collaborative Consortium, according to Moran‘s report, is to ‘reach out to women and ethnic groups through marketing and educational messages.' What strikes me about this flurry of appeals made in the States is that, for once, I don’t feel like we South Africans are light-years behind the more experienced and savvy Americans on the wine marketing front. In fact, one may deduce that we are, South Africans and Americans alike, in the same boat. If ironically so….. The Americans have a very obvious edge over us in that their ‘problem’ is with minorities, ours – do I have to say this? – is with the vast majority of the local population. Regardless of this fundamental difference between our two industries’ situations, there exist many parallels in that we are both confronted with potentially large and untapped segments in a time of global surpluses, cut-throat international competition and static or incremental growth in established markets. The words of Karen Holmes Ward, spokeswoman for Divas Uncorked, uttered in a different context to Alan Goldfarb in the St. Helena Star, have an uncanny appropriateness here: ‘Maybe this is a concept whose time has come’. What then can we learn from the Yanks’ newfound momentum in this regard? Rethink your message Marketing director at Hess, Mary Lawler, told Alan Goldfarb in the said article that blacks are different ‘in terms of how they purchase products’. What Lawler alludes to is that wine marketers, on both sides of the Atlantic, need to rethink, reinvent and redesign the way we traditionally assemble marketing messages. ‘When we present wine it tends to be very male and very white,’ she explains. Do away with stereotypes This sounds like stating the obvious, but in South Africa, because of our recent political history, we are notoriously prone to being patronizing in marketing messages directed at the black market. ‘Do they look like us, in places we go?,’ African-Americans ask when confronted with advertising that has not traditionally targeted them, according to another Diva quoted by Tim Moran. Victor Ornelas of Ornelas & Associates, a marketing company in the USA who targets Latinos, told delegates at the UWGS last week, ‘Stop thinking of us as impoverished farmworkers.' Ornelas substantiated his statement by citing that 40% of all ethnic groups purchased wine within the last three months, 25% of Latinos over the age of 21 drink wine, and that Latinos make up 26% of the so-called millennium generation (between the ages of 21 and 24). As a consumer category, this group is adopting wine faster than other age groups, Ornelas said. Further along these lines, another Diva, Paula Wright, observes in Moran’s article that African-Americans rely on networking and respected sources when making purchase decisions, and that corporate social responsibility would be determining in making a wine purchase. I am reminded of Eric Mafuna’s address at the Wines of South Africa Marketing Intelligence Seminar in August last year. Mafuna’s sentiments were, in hindsight, uncannily similar and timely even without any scientific substantiation. Moreover, they were uttered right here in our midst as opposed to foreign publications and symposiums! My notes quote him as observing that the domestic black market is ‘distinct’ from its white counterpart, that black women are, or rather should be, a ‘critical factor’ for local wine marketers, and he warned that ‘infantile’ marketing strategies won’t be rewarded by an emerging black middle class and existing black elite. The most affecting of Mafuna’s observations I remember listening to, was his appeal to the wine industry to make a paradigm shift in terms of the black domestic market. ‘It isn’t the black market that has to change, but rather the wine industry that has to move.' Perhaps a concept whose time has truly come? Also see: Seizing the gap Is local lekker enough? For more information on Eric Mafuna, click here.