The Coming Fight Over Ingredient Labeling On Wine
There appears to be a growing acceptance within the wine industry that not only ought wineries in the United States include ingredients on their labels, but that consumers are demanding it or will demand it. This idea is on the verge of becoming accepted wisdom.
But is it true? And is it necessary? A recent survey by the Wine Market Council found that consumers generally do not place much value on ingredient labeling or nutritional labeling on wine bottles when considering what to purchase.
The growing acceptance of the idea that consumers should have access to ingredients on wine bottles is surely an outgrowth of the influence of the “natural wine” movement, an extraordinarily small segment of the wine market that has been successful in driving conversations, if not sales.
From it’s beginning, natural wine champions have consistently insinuated that “commercial” wine is bad for you, letting anyone who will listen know that there are countless approved ingredients that can go into wine that consumers know nothing about. This has been a successful marketing ploy that has allowed natural wine sellers to claim their wines are better for consumers’ health and the health of the earth.
While much of this effort amounts to nothing more than Denigration Marketing, the effort has put the spotlight on ingredients in wine and the fact that they are not listed on the bottle.
It’s important to know that ingredient labeling is not required on wine since wine is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, but rather by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. The law is not being skirted.
So, it was interesting to learn that the Wine Market Council, in a survey of 1,000 core and marginal wine drinkers, found that of ten types of information consumers might desire in advance of buying wine, eight types of information were more important to consumers than ingredient lists. Only information on how the grapes were grown is of less interest to consumers. Information such as how the wine tastes, where it is from, its ratings, its type and the winery were of greater importance.
This contradicts so many media reports and articles from the likes of Vinepair, the Washington Post, Wine Enthusiast, SevenFifty Daily, and others who claim to one degree or another that consumers really do want or need ingredient labeling on wines.
There is every reason to believe that the idea consumers want and need ingredient labeling on wine will become accepted wisdom among a much wider swath of wine industry professionals—no matter what consumers say. This, in turn, will set up an inevitable conflict among those who demand ingredient labeling and those that will pay for it, the wineries.
Beyond the claim that consumers want ingredient labeling, there are other arguments for it. “Transparency” is one. This is a somewhat banal argument, but it can be powerful in that it insinuates that something bad and nasty is being hidden by those that don’t agree that ingredient labeling is necessary.
Push back against accepted wisdoms can lead to nasty fights whether the wisdoms that are accepted are useful or not. At this point, there is no consumer movement of any size that suggests this fight is coming immediately in the United States. But that could change. It depends on how successful the media is in advancing the “ingredient-necessary” story.