- 1,200 producers, and over 1,500 importers, wholesalers and retailers and the on-trade from 48 countries were interviewed in 2021.
- Most of the industry believes it should focus more on sustainable production and climate production, but wonders if consumers will follow.
- Organic certification is a growing trend, but many have still to be convinced. While 36% are already or in the process of being certified, 46% have no such plans.
- Awareness of sustainable certification is growing, but varies between countries.
Consumers find it difficult to understand the variety of different organic and sustainability certification systems.
That, at least, is the view of between eight and nine in 10 of the 2,000 respondents to the 2022 ProWein Business Report. Nearly seven out of ten name cost increases – of energy, glass, paper and so on – as their biggest concern.
The latest in an annual series launched in 2017 and produced by Professor Simone Loose and her team at Geisenheim University, this year’s report looks at the general mood of producers and distributors across the globe, and then focuses in on their attitude to organic and sustainable practices.
The online research which was conducted at the end of 2021, involved approximately 1,200 producers, and over 1,500 importers, wholesalers and retailers and the on-trade, covering almost every sector in the industry in 48 countries. While the findings are robust and well-respected, it has to be noted that they are biased towards Europe. There were, for example, 10 times as many German producers and exporters – 738 – as ones from the New World – 74. Similarly, there were nearly as many importers and retailers in the Netherlands – 119 – as in the US and Canada – 109. Publicly-owned Australian wineries, for example, may work in a different commercial, cultural and commercial environment to the majority of the 110, mostly European, cooperatives.
Economic recovery after the pandemic (Source: ProWein)
Expectations for 2022
Revealingly, perhaps, when asked about their current economic condition those cooperatives were the only sector to say that their position was worse at the end of last year than 12 months earlier. Even before the Russian-Ukranian war which is bound to have an impact on the global economy, producers of every size – with the exception of the Spanish – said that they are expecting to end 2022 in a worse state than they began it. Among these pessimists, the German participants – by far the most numerous respondents – were also, by far the gloomiest. No-one was predicting a rapid return to their situation in 2018-2019.
Distributors were certainly more optimistic, with importers, wholesalers and the on-trade especially were looking forward to an easier year, with many hoping to be better off at the end of the 12 months that they are today.
Looking at the environment, there was a very widely held belief that the industry should focus more on sustainable production and climate production, but a realistic understanding by just under half the participants that consumers won’t necessarily prefer wine ‘produced in a carbon-neutral way’. Depressingly, while less than a quarter of the respondents in 2019 believed that ‘the wine industry can only do a small amount to save the climate’. This figure grew to 42% two years later.
When it came to action, 64% of producers had reduced their use of herbicide and another 18% planned to do so, Smaller, but still impressive numbers are taking measures to increase biodiversity and cut back on pesticides.
Organic certification, however, remains a bridge too far for many. While 36% are already or in the process of being certified, 46% have no such plans. The remainder may move in this direction in the future. These differences were far more apparent between countries. While Germany has 28% of its producers in the green camp, fully 57% have no intention of going organic. For Spain, by contrast, the respective figures are 69% and 16%. Italy is not dissimilar, but of course, the climatic conditions in both these countries makes the choice far easier.
Why not Organic?
While two thirds of the producers who are against organic certification frankly admitted that their view was driven by economic concerns – with 44% noting consumer reluctance to cover the extra costs – fully half of the respondents were more concerned about the increased amount of copper treatments that going green would entail. One of the most striking elements of the whole report was the fact that only 34% of producer agreeing that organic wine is economically sustainable. As the authors note, however, there is a significant divergence between the views of the countries where organic farming has been widely, and successfully introduced, and the ones where it is still seen as too hard. Spaniards are twice ready as Germans to believe in profitable organic viticulture, but even for them, the figure is only 58%.
In any case, there was wide acceptance that organic rules be changed ‘to better reflect the concept of ecological sustainability (e.g. reduce carbon footprint, reduce copper usage).’ Quite how tightening these rules would affect financial sustainability is another matter.
Moving to Sustainability
Finally, the report looked at the more recent concept of sustainable certification. Here, it was clear that France and the New World were way ahead of the rest of the field, with well over half the respondents already in the Sustainable camp. However, it was equally clear that a wide range of other European countries are also moving in this direction.
Until now, sustainability has been seen as the preserve of wine producers, but recently similar expectations are being made of businesses at every level. As the report reveals “awareness of sustainability certification has so far been less pronounced in the wine trade and food service segments.” But here too, there are variations between countries. In Sweden and Finland over 30% of companies are certified as sustainable, followed by Norway (27%), France (21%) and Austria (16%). In Denmark, the figure is just 11%, while in Central Europe one in ten of the respondents are certified, ahead of Belgium (9%), Netherlands (8%) and Germany (7%).
But, as was stated at the beginning of this article, whether wine businesses decide to go organic or sustainable or neither, the challenge for the industry lies in communicating with consumers who have little understanding of either ‘green’ designation and – so far – less demand than is often supposed.