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Young French consumers & Champagne: what’s the future?

Gordy Pleyers

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Young French consumers & Champagne: what’s the future?

Is Champagne still attracting young consumers in France today? How often, where and why do they drink Champagne and how are alternatives like Prosecco or Cava impacting consumption? A study by scientific organization Mind Insights* reveals key data to explain how Champagne is viewed by French consumers between the ages of 20 and 35. Luxe Packaging Insight brings you an exclusive summary of the findings.

The Champagne industry is facing considerable challenges, notably when it comes to the success of sparkling wine alternatives like Prosecco and Cava. The Champagne segment’s future depends more than ever on strategic marketing decisions to maintain and strengthen its perceived attractiveness and the resulting purchasing behavior.

This implies crucial decision-making at several levels, which take into account marketing’s “4Ps”:  Product, Price, Place, and Promotion. It is essential that these decisions be made based on a thorough and accurate understanding of the market—of the perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors of the sector’s “target audiences.” However, an analysis of existing data has revealed a glaring lack of rigorous and up-to-date study on the subject. 

To remedy this, a detailed and large-scale study was conducted by the scientific organization Mind Insights* - composed exclusively of university professors who are experts in consumer analysis and influence - in partnership with French glassmaker Verallia. Carried out using scientific research methodology, the study polled young French people between the ages of 20 and 35 (based on a representative sample of 1,170 individuals), a demographic essential to the sector’s survival, and one that appears to be strongly attracted to sparkling wines that are positioned as alternatives to Champagne.

The study analyzed a number of compelling dimensions of the Champagne market, including

  • consumption habits (wine in general and Champagne in particular; see table below),
  • perceived occasions for consumption, reasons for consumption (or non-consumption),
  • purchasing criteria, as well as attitudes toward various elements and different ways of positioning Champagne (for example, traditional or modern), along with support for the sector and the broader concept of “made in France.”
  • The study also included a comparison with leading competing products.

This first graph details Champagne consumption habits compared to still wine and sparkling wine alternatives.

Rational & psychological barriers

The study explores the specific barriers that limit the consumption of Champagne among young French adults. Some of these are based on concrete factors, such as price, which is perceived as “too high” by 56% of young French adults, and as “justified” by a minority of 39%. Some 72% of those polled consider Champagne to be pricier than Prosecco or Cava. Half of the sample group consider Champagne to be a product “for wealthy people”, while only a quarter think otherwise.

The study also reveals certain, more subtle, psychological barriers. One of them concerns deep-seated “mental representations” of what constitutes a Champagne drinker. To investigate this further, the study projected faces of women and men corresponding to  “Champagne drinkers” representative of different age groups (see graph below). This revealed that young French people spontaneously - and with very short response times - perceive Champagne drinkers as being “in their forties” or older, especially with regards to men. The perceived age for women consumers is slightly lower. When combined with other results, this highlights the fact that buying and drinking Champagne simply doesn’t cross the minds of many young adults because they don’t identify with Champagne drinkers, whom they imagine as being considerably older than themselves.

This is in fundamental contrast with competing products like Prosecco and Cava: young adults perceive the “typical consumer” as being potentially younger and therefore more like themselves. Reducing the gap between this mental representation and consumers’ own identities could present a major challenge for the coming years, depending on the strategic direction desired by Champagne brands.

 

Tradition or modernity?

Another section of the study analyzed to what degree Champagne and competing products are viewed as being either traditional or modern. This was examined through the lens of visual identity using pairs of labels, one of which was decidedly traditional and the other clearly modern (see figure below; the impacts of other constitutive elements had been “neutralized” in pre-studies). Subjects were asked to spontaneously indicate which of the two labels best corresponds to their concept of Champagne. The results highlight the deep-seated association between Champagne and “tradition”— again, in contrast with the main competing products also considered in the study. Respondents overwhelmingly selected the more traditional label over their more contemporary counterparts.

The study also examined to what extent Champagne and its competitors are spontaneously associated with other concepts in the minds of young French people. For example, compared to competing products, Champagne more readily evokes concepts such as prestige, luxury, elegance, celebration, success, or even love—other sparkling wines are more linked with concepts such as modernity, spontaneity, and conviviality.

Consumption occasions

Champagne’s less spontaneous image is also reflected in perceptions of consumption occasions at various levels. For example, it turns out that for a majority of young French people Champagne is reserved for “special occasions”— events that nonetheless have incredible socio-emotional potential.

This study is unprecedented in terms of its scope and the wealth of concepts examined, as well as for the results it delivers to provide deep understanding of the relationships between young French people and Champagne. Its lessons will be invaluable for stimulating and objectifying strategic decision-making in the years to come, in an effort to strengthen and exploit favorable elements (influence levers) and remove, or at least reduce the influence of, barriers affecting perceptions and behavior with regards to Champagne.

 

For additional results and questions on the study, contact info@mind-insights.org

*The study is coordinated by Gordy Pleyers, global coordinator of Mind Insights and professor at the University of Louvain, where he teaches marketing research and neuromarketing. Mind Insights is a scientific organization that continually centralizes and uses the most advanced scientific knowledge and methods to analyze and positively influence consumers' perceptions and behaviors.

 
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