In the US, the low-calorie wine market is starting to blossom, led by the Skinnygirl wine range which launched in the US in March 2012. Despite the Beam/Suntory-owned Skinnygirl brand seeing declining sales of its RTD range, its wines reportedly grew by around 50% to over 200,000 cases in its first year in the market.

Mintel’s consumer research shows that this growing wine segment has much greater potential. Almost two in five (37%) of all US wine drinkers agree that they would drink more wine ‘if it had fewer calories’. This rises to 42% among women and to 46% among 21-34 year-old wine drinkers.

However, the fact that low-calorie wines tried and failed to take off a decade ago shows that concerns have only recently heightened to the extent that it affects wine purchasing. For example, Treasury’s Beringer brand launched White Lie – a low-calorie 9.5% ABV Chardonnay – in the US in 2004, only to withdraw it a year later due to disappointing sales.

The lower-calorie wine market has flickered in other Western markets, such as the UK and Australia. However, these markets pale in comparison to the US.

Despite a promising 2013 in the UK, lower ABV wines (which are synonymous with and mainly positioned as low calorie) have started to decline. This is despite the fact that a third of UK wine drinkers are interested in lower calorie wines as a healthier alternative. The main reason for their sales decline is that the taste of the lower calorie wines simply does not match up to the ‘full calorie’ version. Therefore, most wine drinkers rationalize that if they are going to indulge by drinking wine then why not enjoy the real thing.

The US has been different however, this is partly because the wines do not taste excessively different from standard wines. For example, Skinny wine has 100 calories per 5-ounce serving (148ml) from its 12% ABV version. Skinny Vine contains 95 calories for the same measure, with some of its variants going lower than 90. In contrast, UK innovation has been dominated by low-calorie wines with an ABV of 5.5% for tax purposes. This leads to a very low calorie count but also drastically alters the product.

Younger US drinkers are far less likely to negatively compare the taste of low-calorie wines. This is because they are new to the category and therefore have far less experience of ‘normal wine’ to compare it to. In fact, with a less sophisticated palate, they are often attracted to the typical low calorie wine taste profile, which tends to be sweeter, lighter, more ‘watery’, less complex and therefore more ‘drinkable’.

There is plenty more growth potential for low calorie wines in the US, and the market will see many new entrants in the next 18 months. The US is ‘ahead of the curve’ when it comes to global acceptance of low-calorie wine, partly because of obesity being more pronounced, and also because low calorie beers have long been a mainstream drink option. Low-calorie wine works well when it is wrapped up in a positive, aspirational message, and when the taste is similar enough to standard wine that consumers don’t feel as though they’re trading taste for health.

Jonny is Mintel’s Global Drinks Analyst. Having previously been responsible for researching and writing all of Mintel’s UK drinks reports, Jonny now works as a Global Drinks Analyst. He brings ten years of experience working in the marketing industry, with roles at Starcom Mediavest, AB-Inbev, and Trinity Mirror.

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