German Consumer Survey Shows Wine Lovers Want Transparency

A consumer survey done by Hochschule Geisenheim University shows that wine-interested consumers in Germany expect transparency around ingredients. Prof. Dr Simone Loose presents the findings. 

Reading time: 7m 15s

More nutrition information necessary? (Photo: elenabsl/
More nutrition information necessary? (Photo: elenabsl/

Consumer research shows that involvement is a very important differentiator between consumers. Wine consumers with a high level of interest buy significantly more wine, including from specialist retailers or wineries and spend more money when they do so. These wine lovers take a variety of criteria into account when selecting their wine, including grape variety and region. This group is of particular importance to the industry because of their higher willingness to pay and their high level of wine buying.

Consumers with little interest in wine and with less wine knowledge, on the other hand, buy predominantly from food retailers and hard discounters (e.g. Aldi and Lidl) and choose what to drink on the basis of broad categories like price, colour, and flavour.

Knowledge counts

Because wine interest makes such a difference in wine purchasing behaviour, three groups with low, medium and high wine interest are distinguished below.

Consumers were asked about their trust in the food industry and in the wine industry. Three main statements emerge from the survey results:

Wine drinkers differ according to how much they trust the wine industry 

Wine enjoys a very high level of trust among people interested in wine; 60% of those interested in wine have a high or very high level of trust in the wine industry. In this, they differ significantly from the other two groups.

The difference is much smaller when it comes to trust in food. Trust in the food industry is significantly lower because of various scandals in the past, and there is also no significant difference between the groups.

For consumers with a low interest in wine, wine is a food commodity, like any other. Their trust in food and wine hardly differs—they don’t hold either industry in high regard.

Wine is perceived as a natural product 

The high confidence of wine lovers in the wine industry is related to the perceived ‘naturalness’ of wine.

The clear majority of consumers, across all groups, consider wine to be a natural product; among the highly engaged, this view is higher than 80%. This group assumes that wine is made only from natural products—it’s a high standard that is not always in accord with reality.

Fewer wine enthusiasts – only 41% and 51% respectively – assume that wine has only natural ingredients.

Perceived "naturalness" of wine (Source: Geisenheim University)
Perceived "naturalness" of wine (Source: Geisenheim University)

Transparency desired? 

There is somewhat less agreement on transparency when it comes to how the wine is made.  With 68%, only two thirds of the wine connoisseurs and half of the group with medium interest still agree. This shows a desire for more transparency, something the industry must take seriously.

While wine connoisseurs have strongly idealised ideas about wine, a product that is so fascinating to them, the majority of the less interested are rather indifferent to the actual production, as long as the wine tastes good.

It’s a different situation when it comes to consumers who have little interest in wine. About one third answer ‘neither/nor’ to questions revolving around the production process and naturalness of wine. This is partly due to a lack of product knowledge, but above all to a lack of interest in wine as a product.

In summary, wine lovers have idealised ideas about wine, a product they find fascinating. Among the ‘less interested’, on the other hand, the actual production process is irrelevant, as long as the wine tastes good.


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Little knowledge of wine making

When it comes to which ingredients are permitted in wine production, the majority of consumers have only a vague idea. Almost everyone is aware that wine is made from grapes, but beyond that people struggle:

  • Yeasts:
    Only 19% of wine connoisseurs (and 14% of the uninterested) know that yeasts can be added during wine production.
  • Fruits:
    20% of the uninterested and 15% of the connoisseurs assume that fruits other than grapes can be used in wine production.
  • Water:
    49% of the uninterested and 39% of the wine connoisseurs assume that the addition of water is permitted in wine production.

As with many other foods, the majority of consumers have little understanding of what is legally permitted in the production process.

Interest in additional information

The current debate on labelling is also about whether the information must all be given on the label or may also be made available to the consumer outside the label. Consumers were therefore asked about their interest in additional information on nutritional values and ingredients outside the label.

"How interested would you be in getting the following information for wine from a source outside the label (such as a website, QR code, information on the shelf)?"

"How interested would you be in getting the following information for wine from a source outside the label (such as a website, QR code, information on the shelf)?"

The results show that interest in the list of ingredients (55% across all consumers) is significantly higher overall than in the nutritional information (42%).

Interest in information from an off-label source in % for nutritional information and list of ingredients by wine consumer interest (Source: Geisenheim University)
Interest in information from an off-label source in % for nutritional information and list of ingredients by wine consumer interest (Source: Geisenheim University)

And here, too, prior knowledge is decisive: interest in both pieces of information increases with interest in wine. The desire for ingredients information is particularly strong: almost three out of four people interested in wine (71%) are interested in information about the ingredients outside the label. Among the less interested, it is only 40%.

This is an important message for legislators: a clear majority of wine consumers would like ingredients information.

Ingredients consumers would like to avoid

How will consumers react to the ingredients that are displayed in the list? To answer this, the participants were given an extensive list of different possible ingredients, which was compiled in consultation with Matthias Schmitt, an oenologist from Geisenheim. The respondents were asked to indicate all those ingredients they would avoid. The answer "none" was also possible.

Grapes and fruits are fine 

Not surprisingly, grapes and grape must are accepted by (almost) all consumers. This is also true for other ingredients associated with wine, including tartaric acid, rectified grape must concentrate and metatartaric acid. Most people (80%) have also become accustomed to the idea of sulphites.

Names related to fruits, such as malic and citric acid, are usually still tolerated.

No sugar, please 

Sucrose is avoided by one third. A reason might be a wine scandals when glycol was used to sweeten wine. Although this dates back many decades, Germans' still have a sensitive relationship with sugar in wine.

Caution with chemicals and milk 

Longer and more complex chemical terms, on the other hand, are more likely to be rejected. Sodium carboxymethyl cellulose and ammonium hydrogen sulphite are examples.

"What is milk doing in my wine? What is rubber doing in my wine?"

The highest rejection is for products such as lactic acid or gum arabic, which are completely foreign to wine from the consumer's point of view.

"What is milk doing in my wine? What is rubber doing in my wine?"

Liquid sulphur dioxide, which is probably more associated with the underworld by consumers, also experiences a much stronger rejection than the term sulphites. Using chemical names that are as simple, familiar and harmless-sounding as possible is therefore a strategy to avoid confusing consumers.

Ingredients problematic overall 

Only 15% would have no problems with any ingredient; among wine connoisseurs it is only 10% of the respondents and among the less interested, 20%. Overall, wine connoisseurs are clearly more sensitive to ingredients, and their share among the avoiders is always significantly (5% to 20%) higher than that of the less interested.

And in reality?

When transferring these survey results to reality, several limitations have to be taken into account. The interest expressed so easily in surveys is rarely translated into action in everyday life.

Social desirability 

One reason is social desirability. Wine connoisseurs see themselves as people who must be interested in information about wine. This too-positive self-image is thereby projected during interviews.

Reality-remote survey situation 

The second reason lies in the artificial and unrealistic situation of the interview. During the survey, the full attention is on the topic under investigation for many minutes. In everyday life, on the other hand, a multitude of information stimuli compete for the limited attention of the consumer. Purchase decisions at the wine shelf in the food retail trade are made in about 30 seconds, leaving no time for a comparative reading of the small print, with the exception of allergy sufferers and allergens. By the way, this applies to all food.

Even the information on grape varieties, quality levels and growing regions available on the label so far overwhelms many consumers and is only used by a few who are strongly interested.

It is also not realistic to assume that a consumer at the shelf will use a smartphone to call up and study the ingredients of several wines on the internet. Even the information on grape varieties, quality levels and growing regions available on the label so far overwhelms many consumers and is only used by a few strongly interested in wine for their decision.

Detailed information on the label or on digital sources is more likely to be read during consumption at home, where there is more time. A Geisenheim master's thesis from 2017 evaluated access to the QR code printed on the wine label of a discounter's own brands. The access rate was in the range of a few one-tenth of a percent bottles sold and was highest on Saturday evening when the wine was drunk.

Online panel

A third limitation is the form of the survey. The survey took place online. Participants in an online survey have an inherently higher interest in online information than an average consumer.

Maintain trust

Simone Loose
Simone Loose

On the contrary, the indication of ingredients enables wine producers to distinguish themselves according to customer preferences. Above all, wine connoisseurs who appreciate naturally produced wine and are most interested in information will tend to honour and prefer products with few ingredients in certain situations if these can be clearly identified and communicated (also by the winemaker directly) in a comprehensible way.

Labelling will lead to a new market balance.

The current Silicon Valley Bank report on trends in the Californian wine industry also calls on companies to make better active use of the growing need, especially among younger consumers, for healthy and ‘clean’ food with the help of the list of ingredients and to see a labelling obligation as an advantage. Interested consumers can be made aware of products in a targeted manner if they can understand that a wine has been produced largely 'naturally' with few ingredients.


There was sobering news at the annual presentation of the Silicon Valley Bank report—young consumers are showing no signs of embracing wine as they mature.

Reading time: 3m 50s

Labelling will lead to a new market equilibrium in which producers adapt their products to different consumer needs. Wine connoisseurs interested in as few ingredients as possible can buy the products that meet their needs. And the majority of the less interested wine consumers will continue to make simplified purchase decisions based on features and taste and will ignore irrelevant information.

The article is based on the doctoral thesis of Evelyn Pabst.

How do consumers react to the mandatory labelling of nutritional values and ingredients from the end of the year? To find out, Evelyn Pabst conducted an international consumer survey in summer 2019 as part of her Geisenheim doctorate, supported by an OIV scholarship. The study involved 746 German regular wine consumers in a representative online survey. The sample was provided by a panel provider where consumers register who are interested in online surveys.



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