Australia’s largest wine company, Treasury Wine Estates, recently announced an initiative to put a spotlight on the regionality of their wines. The message was clear. Australia’s biggest wine company was moving away from ‘brand Australia’. Should other wine brands follow? Emilie Reynolds reports.

Kangaroo-Road-Sign

A recent study asked trade and consumers from key global wine markets, including the US, UK and China, what they thought of Australian people. Among the top answers were “rough”, “simple” and “uncultured”.
The question was asked as part of a global study by Professor Roberta Crouch and funded by Wine Australia, the University of Adelaide and the Australian National University. Crouch had a goal of uncovering global perceptions of Australia, Australians and Australian wine to see how they could be affecting international wine sales.
Setting out to reveal the ‘country of origin’ effects for Australian wine, Crouch surveyed seven current or emerging wine markets to estimate the potential economic benefit for Australian wine exporters if the existing attitude towards ‘brand Australia’ changed.

What do they think of us?
Crouch said for wine, ‘country of origin’ has been found across numerous international studies to be consistently relied upon by consumers to inform their perceptions of wine quality and their willingness to pay a premium price – even overriding the actual taste of the wine in some instances.
“People don’t consider a product on its own,” she said. “They consider the country, people, food and wine image all together.”

Armed with this information, Crouch interviewed key international trade and consumers from US, the UK, China, Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam and India to get a feel for what they thought about Australia.
Broken down into four categories, participants were questioned about their opinions on the country, people, food and wine. Answers varied but the image across the board was predominately stereotyped. Australia was hot, full of kangaroos and entirely Sydney. The people were tanned, tough and racist. The food was an array of barbequed meats primarily hunted straight from our coat of arms and the wine, well, it was “okay”.

Crouch described the perception of Australia as “single dimensional”.
“If we think of the USA- it’s multifaceted,” she explained. “But when people have a single dimension impression: they only think of one aspect of the country and for Australia it’s our landscape, history or animals.”

How to fix our image issues
When looking at wine specifically, Crouch found Australian wine garnered positive responses from China, Indonesia and India but was considered less favourable for the US, the UK, Korea and Vietnam.
“Australia has image issues in USA and UK,” Crouch said. “People already believe that Australian’s are bold, unique, honest and authentic. Our task is to form the message, to occupy our unique premium position based on our unique attributes.”

Dr Liz Thach, Professor of wine and management at Sonoma State University, gave a presentation about the state of Australian wine in the US at a Wine Industry Marketing Conference held in Adelaide recently. She said in the US ‘brand Australia’ has become tarnished.
“Most Americans perceive it as inexpensive bulk wine,” she said. “Only the sommeliers and wine experts know about the beautiful wines that you make.”

Thach said, moving forward, there were only really two choices available for Australian wine producers who wanted to successfully export to the US.
“One is to continue your country strategy, but don’t call it Australia, and focus on more premium wines. If you’re going to insist on using a country brand, then call it something else — perhaps ‘Fine Wines from the Land of Oz.
“Second is to resurrect your ‘regional hero’s strategy,’ which really never came to fruition in the US,” Thach said. “A regional focus seems to make more sense, because you don’t see other fine wine countries using a country strategy – they use region.
“For example, in Europe, you don’t see Brand France or Brand Italy, you see Burgundy or Tuscany. Even in the US, you don’t see Brand America for wine, you see Napa, Sonoma, or the Fingerlakes. So Australia needs to rethink ‘brand Australia’ and focus on promoting its distinctive and amazing regional wines.”

Crouch said Australian wine producers need to stop emphasising our climate, animals and sporting culture.
“Let’s not emphasis stereotypes,” she said. “We would like to give international consumers something else to think about. Promoting our reliable craftsmen and premium products will make us look good.
“We should always make people see that we are winning- and not on the sporting field.”
Crouch suggested Australian wine producers who were struggling to enter the lucrative US market, should continue to work on changing their image.
“Avoid Australian slang and jargon, we want to be known for more than that,” she said. “Think about the overall presentation of your wine and the people who travel to represent your brand.”

This article first appeared in the Grapegrower & Winemaker magazine.
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