Empathy for Wine Consumers

Gallo executive advocates satisfying consumers on their terms at Unified Symposium

by Kate Lavin
wine grape unified symposium jennifer jo wiseman gallo
Jennifer Jo Wiseman discusses how we think of consumers today at the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento, Calif.
Sacramento, Calif.—Robotic berry picking and the hazards of shopping for glass bottles with toddlers were hot topics at today’s general session of the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium, where panelists considered how innovation can help the wine industry adapt to the challenges of the future.

Jennifer Jo Wiseman, vice president of consumer and product insights at E. & J. Gallo Winery, said empathy is the key to understanding consumers and meeting them where they want to be met. To illustrate her point, Wiseman described Lea, a woman visiting the grocery store with her 5-year-old son. Daunted by the idea of accompanying her child down the wine aisle (“a canyon of glass,” according to Wiseman), she chose a bottle from the end cap display and went on with her day. Meanwhile, wine marketers everywhere refilled their blood pressure medication. This consumer didn’t pay attention to varietal, region, pairing with food or any of the other attributes wine professionals spend countless hours defining and describing. Was Lea doing it all wrong?

“Lea is experiencing a lot of the barriers we see for many different shoppers,” Wiseman said, noting her customer’s desire for a quick solution and reservations about poring over hundreds of bottles before making a purchase. Rather than assume Lea got it wrong by picking a somewhat familiar looking label and heading straight for the register, Wiseman said wine sellers should seek to empathize with Lea and figure out how to meet her needs.

While this isn’t every consumer’s story, it does ring true. After all, do you stand in front of the dairy case and carefully read the label on each carton of milk before selecting a jug to put in your cart?

Don’t make it difficult
A corner of the wine industry believes the answer for Lea is in educating consumers about wine. Wiseman cautions, however, that not all consumers want to be educated. Plus, what other business model requires you to be educated before enjoying the product you’ve already paid for?

“Sometimes they just want to drink, and that’s got to be OK too,” Wiseman said.

Talking to those outside the wine industry is key to understanding these perspectives, she said. “When innovating, it is really hard to think outside the box when everyone else is in the box with you.”

The wine industry often thinks of wine as the center of an event, while for most people it is merely an accompaniment. We shouldn’t try and drag consumers into our world, Wiseman said, but try to find out how to fit into their worlds.

Wiseman said she understands not all wineries have a budget for consumer research like Gallo, but that needn't stop winery owners from thinking about ways to serve their customers and considering what is happening in their lives.

“Thinking about folks that we serve is the bottom line,” she said. “Wanting to have a better life for them through this industry is really where the magic happens and where we can continue to grow and prosper.”

Identifying that small wine brands can get lost in the grocery aisle—if they can get distribution there at all—Amy Hoopes, president of Wente Family Estates, suggested new wineries be willing to start somewhere with a smaller footprint. Get a following, especially among the social share-happy millennial set, and you could have distributors coming to your door instead of vice versa, she suggested.

Dare to innovate
Nathan Dorn, CEO of Food Origins, was another speaker on the panel. He shared stories from his work at berry seller Driscoll and how he saved money and made work better through technology.

Driscoll took a page from the wine industry playbook, for example, and implemented night harvesting in an effort to improve quality. They also started growing strawberries in pots instead of in the ground, which made it possible for harvesters to sit in a chair while robots brought pots in and out. In addition to making harvest faster, the change alleviated workers from having to stoop over knee-high plants for hours at a time. 

“Now we can deliver year round and have a whole different workforce,” Dorn said.

Some of the innovations didn’t work in some areas, but Driscoll believed trying them was worthwhile since the effective changes saved so much money. 

A sit-down solar-powered harvester wasn’t as quick as traditional pickers, for example, but it made it possible for workers with work injuries to return to productivity rather than being paid for sitting the day out.

A 64-arm harvesting robot is “not perfect yet,” Dorn said, but it’s getting there. “Don’t be afraid to invent. Even if it doesn’t work, you can talk about why.”

The Unified Wine & Grape Symposium is sponsored by the California Association of Winegrape Growers and the American Society for Enology and Viticulture.

Posted on 01.27.2017 - 08:10:01 PST
This is a central core truth. The consumer controls the market. A supplier might try to for a while but will do so to their own peril.
Dave Kirk