A new suite of data tools

Although computing algorithms have transformed industries from medicine to retail, they haven’t yet touched wine. Felicity Carter says that’s about to change.

Susan Kendrick, director of global growth, Wine-Searcher
Susan Kendrick, director of global growth, Wine-Searcher

While digital analytics and big data have transformed other industries, this kind of computing insight has been more of a promise for wine than a reality. Recently, however, technology services have developed a suite of tools for the wine trade.

New Zealand’s Wine-Searcher – one of the globe’s oldest and most respected wine technology companies – has created a reporting product that offers vital market information. In the US, the brains behind the Hello Vino app have launched a service to give producers targeted flavour insights. Both services can be used to pinpoint sales opportunities.

The big picture

Wine-Searcher, founded in 1998 by Martin Brown, a former Berry Bros & Rudd ecommerce manager, is an Auckland-based global search engine. It tracks where wines are sold, at what prices, and how many people are searching for them. According to director of global growth, Suzanne Kendrick, Wine- Searcher can even track the impact of specific wine critics on sales across multiple markets.

Producers can now buy reports, from between $500.00 to $2,500.00, that reveal where their wines are most likely to succeed. If, for example, a German Riesling producer decides to enter the US market, Wine-Searcher can see how many US wine drinkers are searching for the best-known German Rieslings, at what price, and where those consumers are located, says Kendrick. This data can then be used to determine the best price and location for their own wine.

The data is also useful for developing market strategies. Kendrick is working with a wine region wanting to move into a higher price category and their first step is to identify who the competition is, and where they’re selling their wines. Kendrick says the data can also show which merchants are selling the region’s wines at the highest and lowest price points. This is critical, because it allows producers to pinpoint supportive retailers, opening the possibility of a closer relationship, while identifying retailers they may want to move away from. Notably, Wine- Searcher works best with premium wines. “Our users are not looking for Yellow Tail,” says Kendrick “If you have a cheap wine, our insights are not as good.” The data can also turn up black spots, where no-one is selling wines for which people are searching. “We can give details on grapes, regions, prices, locations and retailers,” says Kendrick, and “do it the same way in each country.”

Wine-Searcher only works with Latin script, so it reveals less about internal trends in China and Russia. There are many people in those countries, however, who use it to check international pricing – if locals discover they’re being sold a wine at $150.00, but people elsewhere are paying $50.00, it may have negative consequences. Similarly, heavy discounting of a wine in one country may damage its image elsewhere, so it’s worth producers checking on how their wines are faring in each market.

Data to develop new products

New insights into flavour preferences are also opening possibilities. Rick Breslin, co-founder and CEO of the free Hello Vino app, says they’ve relaunched the app to better identify consumer desires. Its ‘Wine for You’ section encourages consumers to identify their price and taste preferences. “A customer can really hone their preferences: red versus white, a lighter wine versus a richer, bold wine, down to the specific flavours they prefer,” says Breslin.

To maximize accuracy, the flavour terms are modelled on the ones users most commonly use when creating wine notes. For example, says Breslin, average consumers prefer ‘licorice’ to ‘anise’, the term preferred by wine geeks. Understanding consumer language is the key. “Consumers might not know that they will like a Brunello,” he says. But they may be persuaded to buy a bottle if they’re given the flavour profile in language that’s meaningful to them – which is information that’s helpful for sales and marketing.

Importantly, the data captures what people actually do, rather than what they say they do. “Some people, when they open the app, say they buy at between $20.00 and $30.00 a bottle, and then we’ll look at the ten wines they’ve journaled, and they’re all under $10.00.” Breslin says the Hello Vino algorithm places far more weight on observed behaviour than stated behaviour, “though that does count for something.” The result is that Hello Vino now has a rich store of data on US flavour preferences, which can be broken down by regional area, demographic, age, and spending patterns.  “We can say, ‘with this wine you should target this region.’” The data even opens the possibility of creating wines aimed at the palate of specific consumers.

Breslin is so confident about the quality of the data, that the company is developing its own private label wines that will be sold by subscription from October 2017. Consumers are, he says, “used to subscriptions like Netflix and wine is becoming part of that.”

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