Women, Men and Wine—What’s the Problem?

femalemaleMonika Elling, a wine marketing consultant out of New York, recently reminded us in a Harpers article that women are under represented in the wine trade, particularly in the distribution tier. This is true. In fact I’ve been reading this claim a couple of times a year for the past 2 years.

“The products are crafted by men, sold by men but these men don’t necessarily know what women want…How different would it be if women were in the decision-making roles as to which brands to bring on, how those decision makers would view potential products that are currently being turned down in an all male board room?”

It’s an interesting question that Ms. Elling poses. But I wonder if the problem of product type that she alludes to isn’t a problem at all. Elling herself reminds us that 70% of all wine purchased in the United States is purchased by women. Either the men making decisions at the top are making really good decision where women consumers are concerned or the impact of having few women in the distribution side of the business doesn’t have much to do with product type. I think it’s the latter.

Elling suggests that other aspects of the wine trade would be different if women represented a higher percentage of its occupants: Communication would improve. There would be greater transparency. There would be a greater embrace of online communication and tools.

While it would be nice to see male/female imbalance in wine trade be remedied, I’m not convinced that these elements of the business she alludes to would change or improve. How they would change or improve with more women in the business is what I would like to read about. It doesn’t take much to explain that it would be nice to see more women in the business.

In 25 years I’ve worked with and for a number of women in the wine business. I’ve worked with women marketers, women winemakers, women winery owner, women retail owners, women communicators and women in the wine side of the restaurant trade. My experience is that they differed from men in those areas of the business in no substantial way.

And I’m still struck by the fact that 70% of the wine purchased in America is purchased by women. On the face of it, it looks like women consumers are being pretty well served by the male dominated trade. But I’m willing to listen to how we can get that number up to 80% and to how exactly the wine products women buy would be different if their were more women in the distribution tier or elsewhere in the wine industry.

8 Responses

  1. Jennifer Williams-Bulkeley - June 23, 2016

    It is not what’s on the bottle it is what’s in the bottle. We as wine ambassadors need to do a better job of introducing the AHA! moment in wine to all wine drinkers regardless of gender. We need to move the market away from brands and to true consumer education about the quality of the product and the story behind it. I would also point out that three new wine technology companies have been launched by women mine, Vinolytics, Ella Lister’s WINELISTER and Cathy Huyghe’s Enolytics. All three companies are intended to drive engagement with wine through better market insight and data analysis of the product.

    • Monika Elling - June 24, 2016

      Tom, As the wine industry and in particular U.S. distribution is privately held, the conversation on this topic is so muted, it is non existent. Women are not even a blip within top ranks and as privately held companies, these entities do not have the same level of scrutiny that publicly traded companies have. Time to shed some light on this problem and move it forward. It’s an important dialogue to have. It is simply undeniable, however, eminently solvable.

      • Tom Wark - June 24, 2016

        I was hoping you’d weigh in. The distribution tier is made up of primarily old families who have long been in the business and it appears to be very patriarchal.

        As for solutions, they are always simple to come by. However, implementing them is something entirely different.

        That said, I’m still not clear on exactly how and why the industry would change if women were finally near equal representation in winemaking, producer ownership, distribution, marketing and retail.

        • Monika Elling - June 26, 2016


          Wine and Spirits Wholesaling Market: $84 billion (2016, Source: IBISWorld)

          Let’s reverse this Q&A a bit, as I would love your thoughts on the following. Is there any reason women are so under represented/completely missing in executive management in wine wholesale? Women are the leading consumer group in the world, and certainly in the US wine sector. Why aren’t they visible within the leadership ranks of the vast majority of wholesalers? Is the thinking that there is not enough of a talent pool available? Would wholesale companies be less profitable or successful in any way if more women would join their leadership ranks? Gender studies show that companies should “Strive for gender-balanced teams. If women make up a significant portion of your customer base, they should be represented on your management team. Research shows that companies with gender-balanced teams have a higher ROI.” Forbes.

          If we take out the few female family legacy leaders in wholesale, what is left?

          • Tom Wark - June 26, 2016


            Are we sure that women in wine wholesale management is lower than the average across all industries? It would be interesting to find that out. I”m not sure.

            This piece of info is at least interesting: http://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2016/03/08/which-industries-have-the-most-women-in-senior-management-infographic/#3aa8a54a2c47

            What we know about women and wine purchasing is that they buy more than men and drink less expensive wine than men (higher proportion of things like Pinot Grigio and White Zin)

            While it’s true that women are under represented in management in all three tiers, what I don’t know is if they are under represented in terms of the normal amount of representation across all industries.

  2. Michaela Rodeno - June 24, 2016

    There are plenty of research reports available online about the beneficial impact on company performance of increasing the presence of women directors on corporate boards. One supposes that the same benefits would occur by adding more women to the top ranks of privately held companies, including distributors. Listening to one’s customers is always a good idea.

  3. Sasha Smith - June 28, 2016

    Women drive 70-80% of all consumer purchasing overall, so the fact that 70% of the wine purchased in the US is purchased by women is part and parcel of this fact…not some signal that the male-dominated distribution system is particularly successful at catering to women.

    • Monika Elling - July 1, 2016


      You are completely correct. Women are the predominant global consumer category overall. “Women drive 70-80% of all consumer purchasing, through a combination of their buying power and influence.” Forbes, 1/25/15 That just means they are serious decision makers. As far as wine distribution is concerned, wines are sold by default, because women simply make the majority of purchasing decisions for households overall. However when a company has a better understanding of its target market, there are likely to be significant benefits. Simple reasoning would indicate that women, well represented within companies that sell primarily to women, will show better ROI. On a different note, it is interesting to see that in this blog I was simply referred to as a “marketing consultant from New York” and have to wonder why a title and company attribution was not given. I have worked hard for both, with employees and operations on a global level. Would a man have been more properly recognized? It starts with the small things….

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