The #SocialJustice Movement Will Come For Wine — How Will You React?

It’s hard to miss the fact that American culture and society is in the midst of significant conversation. Labels for that conversation go by a variety of names: #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, #SocialJustice, #WhitePrivilege, #gender, #CulturalAppropriation, #IdentityPolitics, #Etc, #Etc, #Etc. With the assumption America will survive these tumultuous times, we can be fairly sure that what is happening in the culture today will in the future be described as having been the prevailing zeitgeist of the times.

Examining this zeitgeist from the perspective of one’s own industry—in my case, alcohol—is unavoidable. It’s just too difficult to divorce one’s self from one’s world view, and that always includes one’s established career.

While the American alcohol industry has not been severely impacted by the current social movement the way media, politics, education and some other sectors have been, the discussion around wine, beer, and spirits and social justice has increased over the past couple of years. Moreover, various initiatives in the alcohol industry have addressed these various issues.

Most recently, we saw a columnist in the Boston Globe declare “The Craft Beer Industry Has a Diversity Problem”. Currently a columnist and formerly the Business Editor for the Boston Globe, Shirley Leung used an apparent incident of racial profiling at Boston Beer Company’s Angry Orchard Hard Cider Farm as a launching point to examine the issue of diversity in the craft beer industry.

In her Globe column of July 26, Ms. Leung writes:

“the craft beer business has become a haven for white males — most of whom happen to be hipsters. Sadly, what counts as diversity in this industry is the clean-shaven minority mixing with the bearded majority.”

Leung cites statistics on consumption by ethnicity: “Of craft beer and hard cider drinkers, whites account for 77 percent of the market, while Hispanics are 10.6 percent, blacks constitute 5.4 percent, and Asians are 5.1 percent, according to new data from the consumer insights firm MRI-Simmons.”

This is Leung condemning of the craft brewing industry. However, her column is more than a condemnation and is also an acknowledgment of the fact this thriving sector of the beer industry appears to be taking a variety of initiatives to promote and attract a more diverse workforce and customer base.

What about wine?

According to the most recent study of the ethnicity of wine drinkers that I could find, a survey was done in 2017 by the Wine Market Council. Their ethnic breakdown of wine drinkers was as follows (the overall ethnic breakdown of the American population follows in parentheses):

White/Non-Hispanic: 71% (60.5)
Hispanic: 14% (18.3)
Black/African America: 9% (12.5)
Mixed Race: 4% (2.0)
Asian: 3% (5.0)

Whites are over-represented while blacks and hispanics are slightly underrepresented in the breakdown, though the over and under-representation is not as severe as with craft beer. Still, is this evidence of a diversity problem in wine? I don’t know.

The Boston Globe story is indicative of the social justice emphasis inside the Ameican culture at the moment. But an even better examination of that zeitgeist is to be found in the more than 350 comments that have been posted in response to Leung’s column.

What is absolutely clear from the comment section is that there is a divide in America over the degree of emphasis that ought to properly be put on diversity, social justice and the act of “calling out”. Meanwhile, other commenters make the not unfair point that an overrepresentation of white craft beer drinkers is more of a marketing opportunity than anything else.

In my near thirty years of marketing and public relations in the wine industry, I’ve never once thought about marketing to blacks or whites or asians or hispanics. Nor have any of my efforts to communicate a branding message targeted blacks, whites, asians or hispanics. More commonly I’ve thought about marketing to socio-economic groups or cohorts that undertake pastimes associated with or related to wine drinking and wine buying. I have undertaken efforts to communicate with specific genders, but this usually occurs in conjunction with certain events, holidays or occasions that are associated with specific genders.

Nevertheless, here’s what I do know. The current cultural movement that might best be described as “social justice” will impact the wine industry (and the rest of the alcohol industry) much more in the near and mid-term. It must. It must because a movement of its strength does not leave anything behind. The whirl of a cauldron only expands to encompass the entire brew as it is stirred, whether it is stirred more forcefully or not.

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