Assessing Consumer and Retailer Perception of Table Wine and Wine Store Attributes

Richard C. Reizenstein, The University of Tennessee
David J. Barnaby, The University of Tennessee
ABSTRACT - Perceptions of wine and importance of store attributes and information sources are studied from the perspective of both the wine retailer and the consumer in an emerging table wine market area. Inferences are drawn regarding the level of wine sophistication within retail and consumer groups and the relatively high level of retailer misperception of the importance of store attributes to consumers.
[ to cite ]:
Richard C. Reizenstein and David J. Barnaby (1980) ,"Assessing Consumer and Retailer Perception of Table Wine and Wine Store Attributes", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 07, eds. Jerry C. Olson, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 95-100.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 7, 1980     Pages 95-100


Richard C. Reizenstein, The University of Tennessee

David J. Barnaby, The University of Tennessee


Perceptions of wine and importance of store attributes and information sources are studied from the perspective of both the wine retailer and the consumer in an emerging table wine market area. Inferences are drawn regarding the level of wine sophistication within retail and consumer groups and the relatively high level of retailer misperception of the importance of store attributes to consumers.


Although widely distributed wine is, in comparison to European and other countries, in an earlier stage of the adoption process in the U.S. Due to this fact, and the lack of published consumer research on table wines in particular (most studies which have been done on wine buying are proprietary in nature), a need exists for published research into both retailer and consumer perceptions and attitudes toward this unique product. This research thus reports the results of a conventional image study comparing consumer and retailer perceptions of an unconventional product, table wine, across a common set of attributes.


Despite rising prices, there has been a steady growth in total wine consumption in the U.S. market. Industry analysts indicate that great promise exists for increasing market demand for wine, which has averaged an 8.5 percent growth rate over the last 5 years (Baritelle and Folwell 1976a; Folwell and Baritelle 1975; Wines and Vines 1976; Advertising Age 1977). National potential can be illustrated, in part, by current per capita wine consumption in California, which is approximately three times the national average of 1.7 gallons per person (Wines and Vines 1976; Advertising Age 1977). Contributing to this rise in wine consumption is the liberalization of drinking laws in certain states, lowering of the drinking age, and shifts in the age distribution of the population, the latter portending substantial increases in total usage among those age groups representing a major proportion of wine drinkers (25-34) (Business Week 1976; U.S. News and World Report, Inc. 1977).

Growth in domestic over imported wine has been particularly strong in the 1970's. Several factors have contributed to this overall phenomenon. First, overpricing by French wine producers (especially those in Bordeaux in 1971 and 1972), accentuated a shift in demand from imported to domestic wine. This trend was evident in 1977 and coutinued in 1978 and 1979 due to smaller yields caused by adverse climatic conditions. Additionally the twin pressures of inflation and dollar devaluation against the French Franc and the German Mark have spurred unfavorable price comparisons to domestic wines to an even greater extent. Finally, California wines are being perceived by the consumer as increasingly higher in quality and better in value for the price, as well as being less expensive in an absolute sense than many imports. (Mahon 1976; Forbes 1976).

Market analysts are increasingly optimistic about the future of wines and especially the use of non-traditional strategies in wine retailing. (Advertising Age 1976). Sales of wines in supermarkets (45 percent of wine sold in 1976 was in supermarkets), promotion of wine (particularly white wine) in advertising and point of purchase as a mixer and all-around drink, and the stimulation of consumer awareness of wine by wine education via wine courses and retail sales people, are stressed as major marketing challenges for the industry. (Beverage World 1976; Advertising Age 1976).

Relevant Wine/Marketing Literature

A search of the wine and marketing literature resulted in the discovery of only a handful of limited empirical studies, outside of those reported in trade publications, dealing with the wine consumer's perceptions, preferences and behavior with implications for the marketing of wine. This product category appears to have been bypassed in the stream of marketing literature focusing on frequently repurchased consumer beverage products. Only three studies have been published recently on this topic, by Schutz and Ortega (1974), by Folwell, Hodges, and Daily (1974), and Baritelle and Folwell (1975a; 1975b; 1975c; 1975d; 1976a; 1976b; 1977). The former two of these studies appeared in the Journal of Enology and Viticulture, which often includes articles focusing on the more technical, physical properties of wine products, rather than on consumer and marketing aspects of wine.

Folwell, Hodges, and Daily (1974) surveyed a sample of wine purchasers in Seattle, Washington, in order to demographically profile consumers of low-prices (less than $2.00 per fifth) wines. Income was found to be inversely related to price paid per fifth of wine. A partial explanation of this phenomenon is attributable to the economies of scale generated by higher-income consumers who tend to purchase in half and one-gallon containers, thus reducing the price per fifth. (Baritelle and Folwell 1976a).

The Schutz and Ortega study (1974) included a sample of 52 California housewives who evaluated 43 wines on 48 use-attributes. Factor analysis was employed to group wines into three categories including occasion served, how used, and psychological qualities. This technique was then used to reduce use-attributes into three factors: self-orientation, other-orientation, and functional orientation. The article concluded with a call for further necessary research into wine related attitudes of consumers.

A series of articles by Baritelle and Folwell (1975a; 1975b; 1975c; 1975d; 1976a; 1976b; 1977)has been published from a large consumer panel study (8,000 U.S. households) sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The objective of this study was to identify both present and future wine consumers, primarily on a demographic basis. Results point to a well educated, high income individual as the heaviest user of wine, geographically concentrated in urban areas along the East and West Coast. The importance of the female in purchasing wine for family consumption was also stressed. Similar to the Shutz and Ortega study, the lack of consumer wine knowledge and need for more consumer research on wine was stressed.


In order to facilitate comparisons across segments, both consumer and retailer studies were conducted using parallel instruments. The research was undertaken in a medium-sized (population 200,000) Southeastern city, located in a county which, until recent years, had prohibited liquor stores and liquor by the drink, due in great part to strong fundamentalist religious influences. The market for wine was thus very much in its infancy.

Consumer Study

The consumer questionnaire was distributed by mail to 900 residents selected by a systematic random sampling procedure, using the city directory as a sampling frame. Usable instruments were returned by 288 subjects, a 32 percent response. (Critical phone calls to the researchers indicated return rates were lowered due to the anti-liquor sentiments of many non-respondents.) Information was collected from both non-drinkers and drinkers listing wine, liquor or beer as their first choice alcoholic beverage. Objectives of the study included gathering data on consumer wine knowledge, perceptions of wine store attributes, importance of wine brand choice criteria, perceptions of wine attributes, domestic wine brand preferences, wine purchase and consumption rates, importance of wine information sources, and demographic characteristics.

A comparison of the sample respondents with the overall city population indicates a lack of sample representativeness. The sample is underrepresented in the 18-24 age category, in the under $6,000 income range, and among those with less than a high school education. Conversely, the sample is overrepresented among those 25-34 and 45-64, among those earning in excess of $15,000 a year, and among those having a college education or greater.

In contrast to the above, however, an investigation of the socioeconomic characteristics of the national wine user (consumer), shows a strong parallelism to the characteristics of the respondents in the sample. A study conducted by Time, Inc. (Wines and Vines 1976) indicates that 23 percent of wine consumers, nationally, are in the 25-34 age bracket, while 58 percent are in the 35-64 age range. This compares directly with 22 percent and 59 percent respectively, for the sample.

Similarly, a study conducted by Newsweek (1972) indicates that on a national basis, 40 Percent of wine consumers earn less than $10,000, 37 percent earn between $10-$25,000 per year, and 23 percent greater than $25,000 per year. Comparable figures for the sample are 44 percent, 45 percent, and 11 percent respectively. (It should be noted that the overall income distribution of the geographic area from which the sample was drawn is lower than the national average, therefore potentially accounting for a lower percentage of respondents in the higher income categories.) In addition, the Newsweek study shows that 47 percent of wine users, nationally, have a high school education or less; 53 percent have at least some college education. Parallel figures for the sample indicate 45 percent of respondents with less than a high school education and 55 percent with at least some college.

The above thus seems to support the contention that, although the sample is not representative of the overall city population, it generally parallels the demographic profile of the national wine consumer. This phenomenon is not entirely surprising, as it might be expected that in a heavily wine oriented questionnaire, there would be a greater proportion of individuals interested in wine and spirits who would respond. Conversely, in an area where a significant portion of the population is opposed to the consumption of alcoholic beverages, it might be expected that a lower proportion of that population would respond. The discussion to follow will thus focus on the alcoholic beverage consumer who uses or might potentially become a user of wine. While some caution is warranted in generalizing from the results of the study, nonetheless the comparability of the sample and national profiles is indicative of the potential for extension of the results and conclusions to a broader market of wine consumers.

Retailer Study

The retailer questionnaire was administered by personal interview to a census of the managers of all 40 wine/ liquor retailers in the sample city. Objectives of this aspect of the study included collecting data on retailer wine knowledge, perceptions of wine store attributes, importance of wine brand choice criteria, perceptions of wine attributes, assessment of local wine brand sales leaders, evaluation of local wine consumers' purchasing patterns, and importance of wine information sources. Although a personal interview mode was utilized to collect the retailer information, questions were phrased in a manner parallel to the consumer mail instrument to facilitate comparisons between segments.


In order to assess the level of wine knowledge among both alcoholic beverage consumers and retailers in this emerging wine market, a number of questions were interspersed throughout both questionnaires. Respondents were asked very basic questions concerning table wine purchase and service which could be answered with relative ease by an individual with an elementary level of table wine sophistication and consumption experience.

As can be seen from the data presented in Table 1, the relative lack of wine knowledge on the part of both groups, seems to reinforce the premise that the wine market under study is in an early stage of development. An initial indicator of the level of consumer knowledge may be seen in the low number of responses to these questions. A slight majority of both segments are familiar with appropriate table wine serving temperatures; neither group seems to understand the need for purchasing most red wines well in advance of anticipated consumption to allow sediment to settle prior to serving. Although neither group exhibits any substantial knowledge of table wines and their service, retailers do seem to be more educated in this respect than do consumers. For example, a significantly greater proportion of retailers than consumers understand both the principles of decanting and of aging table wines prior to consumption. Retailers, although still lacking in some aspects of wine knowledge, seem to be better prepared to cope with the complexities of wine selection than do many of their customers.

A further indication of the early stage of this area as a wine market is seen in Table 2 which displays consumers' most preferred wine brands and perceived retail sales leaders. First, the only premium California wine brands included were Inglenook, Louis Martini, and Wente Brothers; all the remaining brands are either non-varietal blends or New York or California jug wines. In addition, not only are premium wines absent from the market area for the most part, but imported wines play a negligible role in both sales and consumer preference. Finally, jug wines not only dominate retail shelve space; three major national jug brands -Gallo, Mogen David, and Taylor - are also the most favored by consumers. These results, taken in concert, strengthen the premise that the sample area is in a early stage of evolution with respect to wine market development.

Although, as indicated above, there is a relatively low level of wine knowledge in such an emerging market, alcoholic beverage consumers and retailers seem, nonetheless, to have well defined perceptions of wine.







Consumer and retailer perceptions of wine, shown in Tables 3 and 4 respectively, were measured on five-point Likert scales. Both segments seem to perceive wine in a positive way, with consumers describing wine as an interesting, good, pleasant, socially acceptable, and proper beverage, while retailers characterize it as exciting, fun to talk about, and enjoyable. More important from the retail perspective, wine is perceived as having a fast turnover, a high profit margin, strong consumer appeal, being very easy to sell, and being highly profitable. The major negatives from the consumer point of view include perceived higher price than liquor and, reflecting the iow level of wine knowledge in this market, uncertainty regarding factors relating to the complexities and technicalities of wine. This latter issue is even more clearly reflected in Table 4, where 60 percent of the retail respondents disagree that wine is "easy to understand."

In addition to the analysis of perceptions of wine by retailers and consumers, both the importance attributed to wine store characteristics by both groups and the differences and similarities perceived among wine stores by these groups were investigated. Results are presented in Tables 5 and 6, respectively. In Table 5, significant differences are immediately evident on store attributes judged important by retailer and consumer segments. Whereas both groups consider availability of brands, variety of types of wines, friendly and knowledgeable personnel, and proper wine storage and display as important, a significantly greater percentage of the retailers rate such variables as salient. Additionally, although the difference is not meaningful in a statistical sense, the data would appear to indicate that retailers perceive store hours as more meaningful than do consumers; certainly, the table shows that a segment of consumers finds this attribute significantly more unimportant than does the retail group.



The price attribute is in a somewhat unique position relative to the other variables due to certain legal constraints in the sample area. At the time of the study, mandatory state mark-ups were in effect for both wines and liquors, which were then removed not too long after the completion of the research. This requirement may at least partially account for the fact that a greater percentage of consumers rate price as an important store attribute and a significantly greater percentage of retailers rate price as an unimportant store attribute. This situation may well be due to the inability of the retailer to affect price below the mandatory base, and consumer frustration generated by both relatively high legislated wine prices and the inability to save money on wine purchases by shopping for the best price. (Given the importance with which this variable is viewed by the consumer, it is interesting that the overwhelming majority of the retailers have not lowered wine prices below the former mandatory mark-up levels, despite the removal of this constraint by the state legislature.)

Evaluations of similarities and differences among retail wine stores by retailer and consumer groups are shown in Table 6. These results expand on the Table 5 data previously discussed. For example, store attributes indicated as important by a significantly greater percentage of retailers in Table 5, are also perceived as being more similar across stores by retailers than by consumers. These variables include availability of brands, friendly and knowledgeable personnel, and proper wine storage and display. (The data also point to the same type of relationship for variety and types of wine, but not at a significant level.) Reinforcing among the earlier point concerning lack of price differences among retail stores, a large majority of both retailers and consumers perceive price as similar across stores, reflecting the use of the minimum mandatory mark-up of 40 percent.



The only attribute on which a significantly greater percentage of consumers perceive more similarity among stores than do retailers is store hours. Additionally, a significantly greater percentage of retailers perceive store hours as different as opposed to consumers.



This dichotomy would seem to be more impactful for the retailer than for the consumer, however, given that in Table 5 a larger percentage of retailers rated this attribute as important and significantly more consumers rated it as unimportant.

One final relationship which deserves substantial attention relates to the friendliness and knowledgability of store personnel. Retailers perceive significantly more similarity among personnel than do consumers in both the areas of friendliness and knowledgability; moreover, consumers perceive significantly more differences on these dimensions than do retailers. These results, when combined with the data in Table 5 showing large majorities of both segments rating these attributes as important, carry substantial implications for personnel training, with respect to both wine education and customer relations.

Importance of wine information sources to retailers and consumers is presented in Table 7. This data seems to even further reinforce the greater technical sophistication of the retailer relative to the consumer, as well as providing insights into the relevant media appropriate for each group. A significantly greater percentage of retailers rate wine labels and media information sources (which include magazine articles and point of purchase displays) as more important than do consumers. Conversely, trends in the data, although not statistically significant, seem to indicate that consumers rely on personal information sources such as friends, relatives, and salespeople to a greater extent than do retailers. Given the greater wine knowledge required to understand wine labeling or to read the literature in the field, as opposed to listening to the suggestions of others, Table 7 may even further reinforce the differential expertise and more technical interest of the retailer.




This study has attempted to provide insights into the differences in the levels of knowledge, perceptions, and preferences of both retailer and consumer segments in an emerging market for a product infrequently found in the marketing literature: table wine. Although, given the nature of the sample care must be exercised in generalizing from the data, results should have availability to current or potential wine consumers in newly developing markets.

Results have indicated a positive perception of table wine as a product both to alcoholic beverage consumers who find it an interesting beverage with very pleasing taste attributes, if expensive; and to retailers who find it both enjoyable and profitable. The data also suggest a relatively low level of wine sophistication in the area. Predominantly jug wines are sold and preferred by consumers with very few premium wines and imports found on store shelves. Wine knowledge, although marginally greater in the retail segment, is on a relatively basic level. Few of the amenities or the requirements of well informed wine purchase or service are understood by a majority in either of the samples. This level of sophistication is also reflected in the types of information sources utilized. Retailers, commensurate with their greater wine expertise, place greater reliance on the more complex information sources such as media and wine labels. Consumers, on the other hand, appear to place more emphasis on word of mouth and opinion from personal information sources such as friends, relatives, and retail sales people.

Given the level of interest in wine in both segments (shown in Tables 3 and 4), a substantial market opportunity may exist to increase wine sales and consumption by means of such educational vehicles as wine appreciation courses, wine societies, sponsored wine tastings, and upgrading of restaurant wine lists. Such educational tools would seem most critical in the short run for retail sales people on whom consumers depend as information sources.

Analysis of the store attribute and importance data in Tables 5 and 6 seems to indicate that a significantly higher percentage of retailers perceive many wine store attributes as being more important than consumers; moreover, they perceive stores as being more similar on those same attributes than do consumers. Two areas in particular in these data seem to warrant detailed attention. The discussion of results pointed to the importance of both friendly and knowledgeable personnel to both segments. Also noted, however, in Table 6, was the significantly greater percentage of retailers rating personnel as similar on these attributes and, conversely, a significantly greater percentage of consumers rating stores differently on the same attributes. This implies that, at least within the area under study, there is a necessity for a greater amount of retail sales clerk training in interpersonal communications skills and demeanor and, as previously mentioned, an increase in wine knowledge of salespeople.

One final area of importance to the strategic planning of the wine retailer is emphasized in the store attribute importance data depicted in Table 5. It has been noted that a greater percentage of retailers perceived many wine store attributes as being more important than consumers. The one major exception to this is the significantly greater number of consumers rating price as an important variable. Heretofore, it has been nearly impossible for retailers to price differentially due to state imposed mandatory markups. With the removal of this constraint, however, retailers are now free to engage in price competition, although this has not as yet occurred. Given the importance attributed to this factor by consumers, it would seem appropriate for the retailer to devote more emphasis on differential wine pricing within the store's marketing mix. This could potentially not only have the impact of increasing market share of individual retailers, but could also, through lower prices, stimulate more consumer trial of table wines and thus positively impact sales growth, eventually upgrading the overall quality of table wines sold in this market. This pricing policy could, of course, lead to smaller profit margins, at least in the short run, possibly forcing smaller, less knowledgeable retailers out of t he market.


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