Nielsen Unpacks Package Design

Speaker applies consumer research to optimize wine packaging

by Paul Franson
The footprint on Barefoot Wine & Bubbly labels proved controversial among consumers surveyed by market research company Nielsen to learn their wine packaging preferences. About 42% of respondents said they liked the illustration, while 37% disliked it.
Napa, Calif.—Most vintners know that wine labels and bottles are important, particularly for retail sales, but develop their package designs without much solid information about what makes them succeed.

To help solve that mystery, Steve Lamoureux, the senior vice president of product innovation for leading consumer market research firm Nielsen presented the findings of a special wine label study undertaken specifically for the Wines & Vines Packaging Conference held in Napa on Wednesday.

The talk was titled “Unpacking Package Design: Best Practices for Winning with Consumers.”

Lamoureux began with the obvious but often overlooked question: Why is package design so important? His answer: “Packaging is the only advertising that the consumer sees when he’s shopping.”

In general, wine companies spend very little on media advertising. “Most of their demand creation rests on packaging and consumer response at point of sale,” noted Lamoureux. Wine media spending for the past three years has been about $90 million per year, compared to $600 million for spirits and $1.3 billion for beer.

Lamoureux said research shows that 50% to 80% of buying decisions are made at the retail shelf. But that shelf is very crowded.

Packaging also has high reach and is relatively low in cost—and it can be highly strategic, helping shape brand perception.

Packaging can even influence distributors to carry or promote products based on their perceptions of how well they’ll succeed.

This is becoming more important as people drink less alcohol but embrace more expensive products; wine volume was up slightly last year, but value was up more.

And new items drive many sales. Nielsen also found 12.5% of the wine category was new (4,200 items in the last three years), though they accounted for only 4.2% of sales. It takes a few years for new items to reach their peak, Lamoureux said, or disappear.

In wine, moreover, innovation is fairly well spaced across the market. In beer, most of the innovation is from the high end of the market, while in spirits it’s in the second-highest category.

How to make a bottle stand out—and get bought
With this in mind, Nielsen set out to find out what a package must do to stand out, get bought and build a brand.

The company audited Cabernet Sauvignon wine bottle designs in three price tiers: less than $10, $10-$20 and more than $20 per bottle, choosing 11 to 12 leading brands per tier. (Some of the bottles were not Cabernet Sauvignon but prominent blends like the Prisoner red wine blend from Napa Valley.)

It then polled 2,700 consumers between ages 21 and 64, with 900 in each tier. Each was the primary wine purchase decision-maker in their household, had bought in the tier in the past three months and weren’t in the wine or research industries.

Nielsen used a number of research methods. One was following eye movements as they scanned an array of the bottles.

A second test was asking the subjects to rate the wines’ personality traits. This was done based on prior assumptions as well as when seeing the packages. They were also asked to describe why the liked or did not like the package.

The key, of course, is to stand out from the pack—in a good way.

In visibility among wines priced less than $10, for example, the Italian brand Cavit stood way out, while a new Beringer design with a dark label was almost unnoticed.

For share of attention, the Beringer bottle once again tanked, but the Mirassou label with its bright sunburst grabbed attention.

From $10 to $20, Beaulieu Vineyard (BV) really stood out, but Kendall-Jackson had little visibility. For share of attention, KJ again was at the bottom, while Cameron Hughes and Chateau Ste. Michelle stood out.

In the top category (bottles priced more than $20 each), Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and Sterling were low in visibility while Hess and the Prisoner were highly visible. For share of attention, Stags’ Leap Winery was in the basement, while Chalk Hill’s relatively new dark label stood out.

The key attention-getting attributes were color of label, shape, contrast and contrarian nature of the package, while color, symmetry and intrigue held that attention.

Next, Nielsen asked consumers to free associate personality traits of wines in each category, then compare a specific bottle with the rest of its category.

Interestingly, Nielsen discovered many unclaimed personalities, like sexy, distinctive, innovative or bold wines priced less than $10, casual, fun and approachable in the middle tier, and casual and fun wines priced around $20—the latter two deficiencies less surprising than the first.

The research team also looked for brand personality traits, like approachable, bold, casual, traditional and trustworthy, and ranked the wines. Not surprisingly, for example, Barefoot was termed casual.

Some wines closely matched their categorization by consumers, while others diverged strongly. A few brands stood out in certain categories:

Barefoot was most casual (as well as approachable and fun), Fancy Pants least traditional; Cameron Hughes was boldest; BV Coastal was least premium; Chalk Hill most sophisticated, and the Prisoner least traditional.

Half the tested packages did not achieve a notable personality or distinction, however.

Some labels, like those of St. Michelle, had almost perfect alignment with the brand position and packaging, while others didn’t.

Finally, Nielsen looked at what consumers liked and didn’t like. Almost as many disliked as liked the bare footprint on Barefoot wines, for example, but they all loved its simulated seal reading “Award Winner” or “Most Awarded.”

In general, consumers liked illustrations. The Mirassou sunburst, Barefoot footprint and Yellow Tail wallaby really stood out.

Some bottles had very high “like to dislike” ratios, others not.


Having presented a tsunami of information in 65 minutes, Lamoureux offered a summary:

• Illustrations get attention, but not always favorable attention.

• Bright designs get noticed.

• Black designs convey more distinct personality.

• Each category has unclaimed personality traits, which creates opportunities for differentiation.

• The high-end category is the least differentiated.

• Many tested package designs are undifferentiated.

Lamoureux then made an obvious suggestion for wineries developing new labels: Don’t depend on the owner’s spouse or a board member to make the decision. Conduct consumer testing. He naturally offered his company’s guidance in optimizing new labels.

Posted on 08.22.2015 - 03:31:14 PST
Okay, I'll state the obvious (to anyone with CPG experience) - the Wine Biz is still in the dark ages regarding modern marketing. The Nielsen folks this in spades, and (along with many others) have been trying to enlighten for years. Effective consumer marketing takes a mix of expertise, experience, and money...and yet most wineries balk (or worse). And we wonder, how does mediocre juice like (fill in the blank of the array of 100,000+ case juice) fly off the shelf? Because no one knows how to hit the consumer well, and the lost consumers go wherever their eye takes them. Someone...someday...is going to figure this out and make a boatload of money with a decent product. But not yet...
Joel Miller

Posted on 08.21.2015 - 10:34:32 PST
Very interesting reading. Certainly agree with the more indirect approach of evaluating the extent to which the package design successfully communicates the desired brand positioning or personalities. The research appears to be on the “gestalt”, or total package, including the bottle (shape and screw cap or cork can make a difference). To further enhance the packaging design development, it could be very helpful to isolate each element, typeface, bottle shape, name, color, etc. to see which is contributing to the desired wine positioning or desired personality traits. Each can be fine-tune to deliver the maximum desired effect.
The relatively small investment in this kind of research not only can have significant payback but also avoid making the wrong decision about damaging one's wine brand positioning, and risk experiencing an opportunity cost of foregone sales.
Roger Brooks
Marketing Research Consultant, passionate about wine
Roger Brooks