How French Wine Labels Have Changed to Attract U.S. Consumers

French wine labels can confuse or intimidate U.S. consumers. Some labels are dense with words, the varietals are not always clear, and prices can be high. These are drawbacks for Americans who buy based on brand, grape and cost.

Anivin de France has addressed these issues.

This national trade organization supports the French Vin De France denomination, passed in 2009 for French table wines bottled by varietal and vintage. This better reflects American marketing. Rather than emphasize Chateau or appellation — unfamiliar to many U.S. consumers — Vin De France lists the brand name, year and grape, and that the wine is French.

Representing table wines, the denomination plays in the $10-$20 price range. Vin De France also allows for wines that blend grapes from across the country. Other French denominations do not.

The result has been growth. Since 2014 Vin De France has doubled in U.S. case volume, from 638,000 to 1.289 million cases. Globally they shipped 21.8 million cases in 2017. The number of participating French producers has increased 39% since 2012, from 546 to 758 in 2017.

To better understand Vin De France, we recently spoke with its director, Valérie Pajotin.

Kyle Swartz: What was the motivation behind this relatively new denomination?

Valérie Pajotin: We wanted to have the best quality-to-price ratio from France. And we wanted simple-to-read labels. They focus on the wine being from France. We realized that’s our best asset in bringing U.S. consumers into the category. The U.S. consumer knows that ‘France’ means good quality.

Consistency, though, is not necessarily the first thing U.S. consumers think about with French wine. This is because French consumers think more about terroir. If a wine changes from year-to-year, the French do not care, so long as it reflects the terroir. But in America, there is no brand without consistency. If U.S. consumers love a brand, and they love that wine’s profile, they do not expect it to change. We’re offering French brands that have that consistency.

This denomination also allows for innovation. Before you could not blend grapes from different regions. Now you can. That’s allowed our winemakers to create new profiles. The wine-buyers really like how they can now give new profiles to consumers.

That’s long been a debate in French wine: That we were not innovative enough, not entrepreneurial enough. Now the denomination has really opened up possibilities that did not exist before.

KS: The labels look much more modern.

VP: The labels list only the brand, the varietal and that the wine is from France. That way a wine novice can look at the bottle and feel like they better understand French wine than had that bottle been designated by the terroir system. It’s more consumer-friendly and approachable.

On the retail level our visibility is much improved. At lot of the time French bottles end up in the France section. That’s how you get consumers who say they did not know that the French make chardonnay or pinot noir. But now with these easier-to-read labels we’re not stuck in one section. I had one retailer in Florida tell me that he took one of our pinot noirs out of the French section and put it in that varietal section, and now it sells so well.

Look at Notorious Pink, a rosé from Domaine la Colombette. That label is much more modern, and the sales have been great.

KS: What’s the benefit of the $10-$20 price range?

VP: My dream is for young consumers to start French wine with one of our bottles. Not all consumers want to pay more than $20 for a bottle of wine. Especially not if they’re buying a bottle for Saturday night with friends. So our prices are more accessible. And if the consumer likes that wine, then later on, when they’re spending more, they’ll come back and look at the shelf and buy a bottle of French wine that’s more expensive.

It’s the ladder system. It’s the same thing that U.S. brands do. Take Kendall-Jackson. Once a consumer trusts that brand, they’ll go to it for any price.

KS: This concept of cross-regional blends is new for France.

VP: Of course at one chateau you will have wines that blend several varietals together. But now you can take the best of each region in France and blend them together. It’s a dream!

And it’s also a solution for our recent climate problems in France. It’s a safety valve. If climate problems damage your harvest, now you can still make your profile with grapes from another region.

KS: Your organization’s marketing phrase is ‘Share the Joy of Life’.

VP: We believe that our way of life is what attracts people to France. There’s an emotional benefit to our every-day life. That’s what people are after when they visit Paris. We wanted that to be our first message to U.S. consumers. It’s uncomplicated. We wanted to focus on the human connection.

KS: What’s next for Anivin de France?

VP: We’re working on a national rollout. We’ll be doing plenty of tastings. We know we can instill courage in retailers to carry our products if we can demonstrate velocity in sales. When we taste consumers, the purchase ratio is one out of every two people.

The opportunity for this category in the U.S. is immense. Once we’ve demonstrated our value proposition to places like Total Wine, we believe this will take off. It’s not a one-off category. We believe it’s a wave that’s coming.

Kyle Swartz is managing editor of Beverage Dynamics magazine. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com or on Twitter @kswartzz. Read his recent piece What’s Driving Ready-To-Drink Beverage Sales in 2018.

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