The rise of NOLO wines: What drinkers really want

4 wine glasses being clinked together

Around the globe, a significant shift is occurring in the drinking habits of younger generations. Millennials and Gen Z are increasingly swapping merlot for mocktails. To better understand this trend, wine business researchers from the University of Adelaide have led a watershed study pinpointing precisely what consumers want from their no or low-alcohol (NOLO) wines. This research offers a critical roadmap for the industry, arming wine producers with much-needed data to navigate and capitalise on the burgeoning NOLO movement.

“Business owners are very interested in diversifying toward NOLO wines,” says Dr Armando Corsi, Associate Professor in Wine Business at the University and one of the project’s leads. “However, we still know little about what consumers want from NOLO wines.”

The market is expanding quickly—much faster than traditional alcoholic wines. Yet there is a noticeable gap in the literature, with comprehensive research into consumer motivations remaining scant and almost no studies including non-drinkers.

“This pivotal study provides a scientifically validated set of results that wine producers can use to decide whether or not making NOLO wines is something they should pursue,” says Corsi, “and, if they do pursue it, how they might best market these new products.” Corsi emphasises that “it doesn’t get any better than this” when it comes to data-driven insights for business decision-making.

The study, led by Corsi, Dr Rebecca Dolan, Dr Steve Goodman, Dr Wes Pearson, and PhD candidate Cassidy Shaw, shows that in order to be successful, NOLO wines should still function, be perceived and taste like their alcoholic counterparts. It also found that if consumers have a strong positive attitude toward NOLO wines, they are more likely to recommend the product to their peers and buy it themselves.

"For the industry to effectively cater to this growing demographic, our study suggests that mimicking the taste of alcoholic wines is key, but we should not disregard consumers' emotional connection with their beverages," says Dr Dolan.

The study expands on existing research into NOLO wine consumption by applying the ‘theory of consumption values’ model. This theory posits that consumer choices are influenced by the perception of five key values in a product: functional, situational, emotional, social, and epistemic.

Interestingly, this study found that all consumers value the functional benefits of NOLO wines (how they serve specific needs or address problems). However, only drinkers care about the emotional benefits (the joy, pride, satisfaction, or nostalgia the wines evoke) and epistemic benefits (the curiosity or new experiences the wine offers). It also found that drinkers with extensive wine knowledge might be less interested in NOLO products, possibly due to an established preference for higher alcohol content.

“Previous studies have often lumped all consumers together, but we believe it's crucial to distinguish between the reasons drinkers and non-drinkers might choose NOLO wines," says fellow researcher Cassidy Shaw. “Similarly, before this, no one has compared differences between no-alcohol and low-alcohol wine preferences.”

This research indicates a significant opportunity for the wine industry to innovate and capture the growing NOLO wine market. By leveraging these new insights, wine producers can boost the quality of their NOLO wines, develop new offerings, and potentially increase their market share.

Notably, the research can guide wine marketers in crafting targeted campaigns that highlight the true appeal of NOLO wines. Knowledge of consumer motivations will inform promotional strategies, allowing for more effective targeting and enhanced consumer satisfaction and sales.

Future research at the University will test how different communication methods influence attitudes, perceptions, and behaviour towards NOLO wines, compare consumer experiences across no-, low-, and mid-strength wines, and study the synergies—or lack thereof—between the marketing and sensory aspects of NOLO wines.

Shaw underscores, “The growing consumer demand for NOLO wine options signifies both a critical issue and an exciting opportunity for the wine industry, as it introduces more variety for consumers.”

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