Identifying the UK wine consumer
The purpose of this thesis is to attempt to profile the UK wine consumer to see who s/he is and why, who or what influences his/her behaviour. The study is not concerned with medical, health or illegal consumption issues. The impetus for this study was given when the author was studying for the internationally recognised trade qualification the WSET Diploma. In discussion with trade people in the cohort comments were made about the profile of UK consumers which were unrecognisable to the author but constantly reiterated by those working in the trade. Since the UK is currently the largest wine market by value in the world it seemed strange that those working within the trade had beliefs and perceptions about their consumers which did not seem to concur with the experiences of the author as a consumer.
Initial research showed that only seven academic papers had been written on the social UK wine consumer since 1989 when current purchasing and consumption patterns were beginning to be established. All of these papers had looked at the consumer in isolation and not attempted to investigate what external factors or groups might be influencing behaviour. During the research for this thesis four groups were identified all of whom moderated the purchasing and consumption behaviour of wine consumers in different ways: trade wine buyers, wine production companies, wine related media and the consumers themselves.
This thesis is based upon postmodern philosophy using a constructionist epistemology and critical realist stance. This enabled the use of a multi-strategy approach in which several ethnographic methodologies could be used producing a much richer set of data collection than a single method would have done. The variety of methodologies and methods included grounded theory, autoethnography, interviews, focus groups and participant observation and enabled a flexible inductive approach reacting critically to the data construed rather than imposing preconceived ideas and values upon the UK wine consumer as much of the wine trade and current academic theory has been doing.
The results of this thesis enabled a range of UK wine consumer profiles to be identified demonstrating both rational and irrational approaches to wine usage and showing how deeply wine usage has become incorporated into the culture of most social groups within the UK. The thesis also shows that all wine related behaviour is cultural, situation, occasion and gender dependant.
The adoption of a qualitative stance has enabled the identification of the behaviour of UK wine consumers to a depth impossible in traditional quantitative studies bound by the strictures and conventions of positivist methodologies. The depth of knowledge constructed adds significantly to our understanding of consumer behaviour in relation to the moderate purchase and consumption of wine rather than the immoderate and harmful behaviour which is already well understood and documented. This thesis demonstrates that there is much work still to be done in understanding exactly how wine is currently used in public consumption situations to demonstrate cultural and economic inclusivity or exclusivity from and by particular social groups. It also identifies the gulf of understanding between those who provide and hope to sell wine and those who use and consume wine by showing where there are discordant views between the stakeholder groups.
Finally, and unexpectedly, the lack of clarity in the use of wine related language and symbolism in relation to young and new consumers has shown that further research in this area would be of use not just to the wine trade and academia per se but would also help the teaching profession better understand how generational distance can impact upon the student learning experience.