The wine industry needs to stop ignoring the Black Pound

Aleesha Hansel

Aleesha Hansel

12 August 2020

With a spending power of £300bn* in the UK alone - and rising, the BAME community is not one that the wine industry should complacently ignore any longer

While off-trade wine sales have significantly increased during lockdown, the pre-pandemic trend shows a steady, overall decrease in regular wine consumption dating back to 2015 [UK Landscapes 2018 report, Wine Intelligence].

Now, in the wake of Covid-19 and its particular effect on the on-trade, alongside the mass-awakening to the importance of inclusivity, there has never been a better or more necessary time to reassess how the industry appeals to these customers.

If the wine industry wants a larger share of the Black pound, then they need to try to understand ethnic minority identity profiles

The Black Pound Report produced by business coach Lydia Amoah, looks at the advertising industry through the prism of multicultural consumers. While not drinks-industry specific it offers valuable insights into how British ethnic minorities are spending their money overall, and therefore opportunities for the wine industry.

The report found that 70% of respondents did not feel valued as a consumer in the UK, and that 66% were not fully satisfied with BAME representation across all media marketing.

Picture imperfect

Diversity recruiter, Kirsten MacLeod, recently conducted a small audit of images on several well-known wine companies' websites focusing on the occurrence of BAME people in their marketing material. Speaking to Imbibe, she says, 'My view is always to hold up the mirror and ask, do I look like my customers? Does my website represent our customers? Would a black or Asian person, someone of ethnic minority, want to buy from me when all the people in my photos are white?'

One of MacLeod’s revelations regards Rathfinny, one of England's largest vineyards. Currently all of the people shown on their ‘About Us’ page are white, the hospitality staff are women, while all the chefs are men. 'In addition to the lack of ethnic diversity, it's just terrible gender stereotyping,' says MacLeod.

Another example was observed on Slurp.co.uk, where upon clicking on the 'Wine Club' tab visitors are greeted with a panorama of white faces (image above). 'Would this photo make you want to join their wine club?', asks MacLeod.

Sarah Driver, Co-owner Rathfinny Wine Estates, said: ‘As a small and relatively new business in the wine industry we believe that we are doing what we can to effect change and we intend to do more as we grow.  We have a wide representation of female staff at Rathfinny…Over 40% of our core vineyard team are female and we have a wide range of ages employed and several with special educational needs.’

Hugh Taylor, Slurp MD, responded saying that the use of the image was ‘totally accidental’ and that Slurp would review the use of the image. ‘We are trying to encourage membership to our wine club and certainly not to the exclusion of anyone over the drinking age. As you can imagine this would be penalising our own business… We have many people from different cultures who buy wine from Slurp and I will continue to promote this diversity.’

Imbibe reached out to both firms for a response to MacLeod's comments and you can read their responses in the box (right).

It's also important to note the context in which any person of colour is portrayed. In the Institute for Masters of Wine Annual Review 2018-2019, of the 72 photos showing people, there are only two faces of visible black origin, and one showing a black person’s hand which appears in a serving capacity.

However, it’s imperative that companies do not just start implementing short-term, box ticking exercises, by adding BAME people into photos for the sake of it. The desire to change, and become more inclusive, is one that must come from the top-down in order to be truly long lasting.

In their 2015 re-released 'Diversity Matters' report, McKinsey & Company found that public companies whose top management and boards were in the top quarter of ethnic and race diversity, were 35% more likely to have greater financial returns than the respective industry medians. This suggests that making a company more representative at the top trickles down into a deeper understanding of the customer base, as well as communicating a more authentic image to consumers across the ethnic spectrum.

Mistaken identity

The wine world would do well to look to the spirits industry for guidance on how to sell to BAME communities. Unlike the recent downturn seen in wine sales, the spirits market is forecast to grow 5.4% in 2019-2023 [Pre-Covid-19 Statista report]. It has also, crucially, managed to engage a wider range of consumers, in a way that the wine industry is yet to achieve.

Companies whose top management and boards were in the top quarter of ethnic and race diversity, were 35% more likely to have greater financial returns

McKinsey & Company, 2015 Diversity Matters report

The William Grant & Sons' Trending 2020 report identifies a particular type of consumer they call the 'Active-ist'. Their spending habits are underpinned by five key themes, one of which is 'my identity' and encompasses a want for companies to connect with them on a more 'candid human level'.

This isn’t a new idea – identity economics, formulated by George Akerlof and Rachel Kranton in 2000, established the idea that people make economic choices based not only on finances but the concept of one’s-self. Who we are, and who we want to be, may be the single most important factor shaping our economic decisions. If the wine industry wants a larger share of the Black Pound, then they need to try to understand ethnic minority identity profiles.

Stereotypes surrounding BAME drinkers often lead to pigeon holing, such as believing black drinkers only like Moscato and Cristal. This is perhaps due the popularity of these wines in popular culture, but for an industry to only have one point of reference for a whole community is lazy at best and insulting at worst.

It will only be when BAME people can see themselves across the wine industry, that they will connect with everything the world of wine has to offer.


*Multicultural Britain, The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, 2012

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