The Dry Januarians Are A Threat That Need A Response

God bless Alain Ducasse.

So upset and infuriated is the legendary French chef with the entire concept of “Dry January” that in response he has significantly lowered the price of his best Rhone, Burgundy and Bordeaux bottles at his Parisian restaurants during the first month of the year. The idea is to coax people off their pledge to not drink in January by enticing them with restaurant wine prices they can’t refuse.

I’ve heard people who dismiss the Dry January trend as stupid, useless and ineffective in almost every way. However, I have not heard anyone, until Ducasse, actually attempt to combat the Dry January trend. Moreover, The Ducasse Approach is probably the most straightforward way to combat the trend. Don’t vilify the idea. Just make the Dry Januarians an offer they can’t refuse. I love the idea. It’s just such an elegant and simple poke in the eye of what Amber at SpitBucket.Net called the “virtue signaling” of Dry January.

All that said, I’m convinced that Dry January is not a “thing” or fad. I think Dry January is going to get to be a very big deal over the next five years to a decade. So big, in fact, do I think Dry January will become that I can see precipitous drops in consumption being registered in the near future Januarys. The trend reminds me very much of the Prosecco/Rose trend. It starts with a core group of adherents. Then it spreads by word of mouth. Then the insider media start promoting the trend. Then the big media gets in on it.

Both Prosecco and Rosé sales are coming down off their highs. The same will happen with Dry January. But my feeling is that the trend is going to build over the next decade. When the backlash kicks in (and it will) there will remain a much larger group of hanger-ons to the trend than when it started, just as Rosé and Prosecco will have a much larger base of devotees even after the trend ends.

So, the question for alcohol sellers and the wine industry is what to do about this? The Ducasse Approach of cajoling and bribing potential Dry Januarians into drinking during the first month of the year is certainly one way to go. It’s counter-programming, however. Counter Programming works when you give people a viable and attractive alternative that matches the benefits of the programming you are trying to counter. Cheap alcohol, however, doesn’t touch on the reasons many folks adopt a Dry January stand, which is almost entirely ideological and health-related with a touch of guilt soothing.

I honestly thought that Rob McMillen, author of the Silicon Valley Bank Wine Report, was being preachy and overly alarmist last year when he warned of the new neo-prohibitionists coming for wine and the rest of the alcohol industry. This was myopic and pollyannish of me. He’s right. My mistake was focusing on the Neo Prohibitionists and recognizing their mainly ineffective lines of attack, instead of focusing on their audience. Neo Prohibitionists know that folks like me in their 50s and those beyond are a lost cause. Their target is the Millennials and Gen Z, a collection of folks who appear much more impressionable when it comes to claims of industry forces trying to kill us with alcohol and who are more willing to react to the idea of moderation with a fanatical retreat.

Still, the wine industry can’t sit back and just watch as the anti-alcohol tribe complains that the falling drunk driving instances are really just a failure to stop people from drinking altogether. There is an obligation to fight back.

The most obvious thing the wine industry can do is, as I’ve said before, band together and fund a generic promotional campaign on behalf of drinking wine. Just because the industry has never been able to muster the strength and common sense to come together to do this sort of thing doesn’t mean it can’t do it. It just means it’s highly unlikely to do it.

So instead, I think it’s pretty clear the wine industry (wineries, retailers and wholesalers) needs to do some effective counterprogramming. Instead of poking the Dry Januarians in the eye a la Alain Ducasse, we need to convince folks of the truth: Few products are as natural and clean as wine. Few agricultural products are produced with as much sustainability in mind as wine. Few products preserve and promote culture as thoroughly as wine. For those who care about using their spending power to promote good, earth-centered, climate cleaning endeavors, wine is as good as it gets.

And yes, every time some yahoo with a government grant concludes that wine kills, we need to remind everyone that wine doesn’t kill anyone when enjoyed in moderation.

And no, it wouldn’t hurt to have a few more eye-pokers like Alain Ducasse.


4 Responses

  1. Tony Caffrey - January 16, 2020

    I too am a fan of Amber and have no desire to diminish her, but she didn’t think up the phrase “virtue signaling” all on her own. It’s been in relatively common use in the UK for some time, to identify those projecting a form of moral superiority.
    Natural wine anyone?

  2. Tom Natan - January 16, 2020

    Amber didn’t claim to invent the term – she just cited this as a prime example. What makes me wonder is why, when so many people consider wine to be part of their so-called self care, that they’re so willing to drop it for another form of self-care.

  3. Tom Wark - January 16, 2020

    Tom,
    I think it might mean that how people care for themselves is something that easily fluctuates based on their own circumstances and based on what they read might be a newer, better form of self care.

  4. Rob McMillan - January 16, 2020

    Tom – You weren’t alone in dismissing my neo-prohabitionist views in January 2019. In fact I would have dismissed them in middle 2018, until I started researching to look for why demand had started to fall

    You’re also spot on about an industry driven marketing response. I’ve been meeting with many of the top industry players and they see it now too and there is traction developing. I’d expect something to be announced- a way to pull us all together, as early as March.

    Then I pray everyone decides to row together. We can’t afford people riding in the boat. Everyone has a part to play and it would be bad form at a minimum for anyone to thimk that they’ll sit on the sidelines and watch, while others put in the work. I get it that were all busy, but we are dealing with an issue that impacts every single person in the supply chain and vendors as well.

    If something comes together that will improve the whole market, i for one will think less of a company who has an excuse for not joining in.


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