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Sacré Bleu! Forget ‘Dry January’, France Had A Dry Pandemic

After years of steadily rising, wine consumption in France dipped as much as 30% in May 2021. Is the pandemic to blame? Or are drinking attitudes shifting?
After years of steadily rising, wine consumption in France dipped as much as 30% in 2021. Is the pandemic to blame? Or are drinking attitudes shifting?
  • France’s stereotypical penchant for wine may become a thing of the past
  • After years of constant acceleration, wine consumptions levels have fallen during the pandemic
  • People are not only limiting their alcohol intake but also the amount they’re willing to spend on it

It’s safe to say the French know quite a bit about wine. The Romans may have introduced them to it, but since then France has been working hard to earn its reputation as the rightful homeland of the finest wines in all the world. As such, popping the cork on a bottle of Chardonnay at lunch time has become as much as a stereotype for French culture as donning a beret, buying a baguette or wearing a striped t-shirt.

Whilst many of those lazy assumptions are, in reality, untrue (I have yet to encounter, on any trip to France, an onion-bedecked accordion player for example) it’s not unfair to say that the French are indeed big wine drinkers…

… Or at least they used to be.

An investigation by NEOMA Business School, based in France, has found that after years of steadily rising levels of wine consumption between 2014 and 2020, there was a sudden drop by May 2021.

Nathalie Spielmann, Professor of Marketing and Director of the MSc Wine & Gastronomy at NEOMA Business School who undertook the investigation, was very firm in explaining why this drop happened to occur so suddenly. “The health crisis caused purchases to fall to a lower level than in 2014, with a drop of 30%,” she said.

Professor Spielmann and her colleagues interviewed 3000 consumers – first in June 2014, then again in February 2020 and once more in May 2021 –  about their drinking and alcohol purchasing habits. Their aim was to understand how both men and women’s lifestyles and relationships with drinking may have changed prior to and during the pandemic.

The interviews revealed that whilst wine consumption levels has fluctuated several times over the last seven years, there was a marked and consistent increase in consumption between 2014 and 2020 . Then, as the pandemic took hold, consumption levels took a considerable downturn – both in terms of volume and value.

“The health crisis,” Professor Spielmann says, “caused purchases to decrease to a level lower than in 2014, falling by 30%”

In specifying the changing drinking habits of men and women, the investigation revealed that, before the health crisis, consumption by women had remained steady over the years – hardly varying from the average of six bottles a month. However, consumption by men increased over the same period from 7.69 bottles to 9.97 bottles per month.

Another indication of changing cultures and preferences was revealed in asking interviewees how much they would be willing to spend on a bottle of wine. The average amount of €19.66 revealed in the first round of interviews in 2014 had dropped significantly to just €13.91 by 2021. This could be indicative of people having less disposable income to spend on life’s little luxuries of course.

Or, perhaps, it suggests that French people are choosing to be a little more selective with their purchases? The downturn, Professor Spielmann says, did not affect the champagne sector. “In the champagne market, we have a product where the perception of quality continues to increase, so consumers are more inclined to devote a large part of their budget to treat themselves to champagne,” she explained.

Despite the downturn, however, it is doubtful French people will give up the plonk entirely. The study also showed that when wine is purchased, French consumers prefer to shop local and buy varieties produced within their borders before considering the price per bottle.

So on your next trip to France rest assured that the vineyards remain very much still in business! And, if you think like the French, you may also have the added benefit of saving a little money when it comes to choosing which bottles to take home with you!

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