Consumer Watch: Wine lovers lighten their drop

By Susan Edmunds

Hunt for healthy lifestyle behind low alcohol sales leap

Low-alcohol beer is popular, but sales of lighter wine varieties are picking up too. Photo / Thinkstock
Low-alcohol beer is popular, but sales of lighter wine varieties are picking up too. Photo / Thinkstock

New Zealanders are spending millions of dollars a year on beer and wine that packs less of an alcoholic punch. Winemakers say sales of lower-alcohol wine are increasing at between 140 per cent and 160 per cent every year.

The rest of the wine market is comparatively stagnant, growing at a rate of about 0.5 per cent a year.

Lighter wines are still a fraction of the industry — accounting for just over $10 million in sales every year, or just less than 2 per cent of the total wine market.

But Countdown has seen a 300 per cent year-on-year growth in sales of low-alcohol wine over the past couple of years even though they are not cheapest on offer.

Kim Crawford's First Pick, with 9 per cent alcohol, sells for about $11.99 and Brancott's Flight range, also 9 per cent, about $15.95 in supermarkets. A 12-pack of 2 per cent strength Export Citrus is $19.99.

NZ Winegrowers chief executive Philip Gregan said the increase in lighter options was a sign that winemakers were responding to consumers' desire for a healthier lifestyle and to baby-boomers getting older.

Low-alcohol wine could be created by producing a wine, then removing alcohol, or, for the more expensive varieties, by using different grapes or harvesting patterns to produce a wine with a naturally lower level of alcohol.

Gregan said it was likely there would be further growth in wines that were about 10 or 11 per cent alcohol, compared to the more standard 13 per cent.

Nina Stojnic, of Kim Crawford Wines, said lower-alcohol wines had to taste good. "We are doing that through improved viticultural techniques." She said red wines had not yet been successful at lower alcohol levels but lighter white wines were taking off. Kim Crawford was seeing 147 per cent sales growth by value in supermarkets, year-on-year.

Brancott Estate said the category was growing at 163 per cent a year.

Lower-alcohol beers have been on the market for longer and the options are growing.

"Lower-alcohol beers, which have been around longer, have also had a number of new variants come into the market and this category remains steady," Countdown spokeswoman Jess Miller said.

Foodstuffs said lower-alcohol beer represented about 1.5 per cent of the sales of all beer in its supermarkets.

A DB spokesman said the trend for lower-alcohol drinks had been noticed internationally. He said the company's Export Citrus launch was the most successful beer launch in the past five years.

It now has a 1.8 per cent volume share of supermarket beer sales and is the 11th-largest beer brand by volume in supermarkets. Amstel Light, which is 2.5 per cent alcohol, was also popular.

IT technician Daniel Blake switched to drinking Export Citrus for the taste but the fact it is low alcohol is a bonus.

"I'm at that age where I can't get drunk and then get up and be fairly fine any more. When you've got little kids prodding you at 6am wanting breakfast, lower alcohol is a better decision."

- Herald on Sunday

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