Wine trends in Norway

As the climate becomes warmer, Norwegian wine preferences are changing. Liora Levi reports.

Cru Vin & Kjøkken, Oslo
Cru Vin & Kjøkken, Oslo

After a record-breaking hot summer in 2018, the people of Norway left the shelves of Vinmonopolet empty of rosé wines. White and sparkling wines were the next beverages of choice. While sales of white and sparkling wines were up by 6.6% and 7.6% respectively, rosé sales soared by 26.1%.

Wine sales in general increased slightly in 2018, rising 1.9%. Red wine sales were down 2.8% while fortified wines dropped 4%. The non-alcoholic segment also increased, by 12.7%, so for the first time in the history of Vinmonopolet, more non-alcoholic beverages were sold than fortified wines.

Who is the Norwegian consumer?

Global research firm Kantar TNS did two extensive surveys for Vinmonopolet in 2018 to identify the different needs of consumers. At the end, Kantar created four categories of consumers. It discovered that cost-focused consumers, or those most concerned about price and who want shopping to be simple, represented 19% of the market. The inquiring or seeking segment, meaning those who seek help with their purchases and who are open to try new wines recommended to them, represented 38%. Those who know about wine, and have already made up their minds (conscious) represented 31%, while dedicated consumers who are actively looking for inspiration and for education represented 12%.

The overall average spend per bottle of wine across the four categories was Nkr147 ($17.30). Average consumption was 4.28 units per week and consumers visited Vinmonopolet (or the web shop) an average of 18 times.

Changes at Vinmonopolet

Vinmonopolet’s assortment is divided into five ranges: basic, which are products found in every store (depending on the store’s size); one-lot products available until they’re sold out; test products with a limited time on the shelves; products which need to be ordered online; and additional products that can be ordered through the wholesaler. There are also 18 specialty shops, seven of which focus on fine wines.

These shops carry an extraordinary selection of exclusive wines with limited availability. The wines can be ordered online, but must be collected at the shops which have the wines in stock. A separate warehouse also carries a small number of these wines, which are available for online ordering.

To be able to pinpoint the individual requirements of each of Vinmonopolet’s more than 330 shops nationwide, two new category managers have recently been appointed to join the six product managers who work with the basic, one-lot and specialty wine ranges. This year, Vinmonopolet will also segment each shop into one of two categories: bright and light, and red and dark. The thinking behind the segmentation is a better distribution of new releases to shops in accordance with their particular customers’ requirements.

While the product managers are responsible for the tenders, trends and research into each product, the category managers will focus on the development of sales, trends, different requirements within each range and long-term plans for the category as a whole.

Trends

The trend towards lighter wines with less alcohol is gaining momentum. While trends are typically centred in urban areas, because urban customers tend to travel more and are influenced by what’s happening abroad, rural areas are now picking up on the movement towards lighter wines with less alcohol. Travel is not only for the affluent anymore; everyone is travelling and adopting the food and wine cultures they see.

A new focus on exercise and healthy living, and cutting down on alcohol and sugar consumption, has increased demand for lighter wines. Global warming, bringing a warmer climate with long and hot summers with it, has also had a great impact on which beverages the Norwegians choose, as reflected in the new sales records set for white, rosé and sparkling wines. It is worth noting that German white wines are still gaining market share, and that France had the largest growth in the rosé and sparkling segments. Craft beers and ciders are also on the rise.

Sales of red wine from countries such as Chile, Argentina, South Africa and Australia are decreasing while French reds and wines from Piedmont are increasing in volume. Even though the total volume of wines from Lebanon is not very high yet, its wines recorded sales growth of 74.5%, which puts Lebanon more or less in the same category as New Zealand and Austria.

“The growth in sales of white, rosé and sparkling is evident,” said Trond Erling Pettersen, recently appointed as category manager. “However, with this being said, the overall consumption of wine is still on the red wine side with 58% of the market share. Within the segment, changes are seen clearly. Less alcohol, less sugar and ripeness; in other words Amarone, Ripasso and Appassimento wines are losing their previously strong foothold to the lighter, classical red wines from France and Northern Italy. Pinot Noir is slowly taking over from Primitivo.”

 

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Trond Erling Pettersen, Vinmonopolet

Even in the bag-in-box segment, which accounts for more than half the wine sold nationally, there is a move towards lighter wines. Previously it was dominated by the rich Appassimento and Zinfandel styles with a lot of residual sugar. Today however, the highest-selling bag-in-box is a dry Garnacha from Spain.

What’s happening in the on trade

Norway has an exciting wine scene and more wine bars keep popping up. There is a strong focus on good glassware and wine lists in the urban areas are extensive.

Cru Vin & Kjøkken is a well-established restaurant and wine bar in the western part of Oslo. It is located in an area where the standard of living and spending is already high; however, manager, chef and sommelier James Maxwell-Stewart says he has seen a dramatic increase in the average spend of his guests since he took over in 2015. He claims that about 30% of the wine sales are of expensive wines and it has become fairly regular for guests to spend NKr2,000 ($235) or more.

On the opposite side of town, Karin Dejeborn, manager and sommelier at the popular wine hang-out Territoriet, is not comfortable with the term natural wines, finding it too vague. “Yes, we have a lot of wines that most people would call natural wines, but we don’t carry the most funky wines,” she says. “The selection of biodynamic, spontaneous-fermented and unfiltered wines is rather large though.” Most wines are sold by the glass, with the bar increasing its 300 by-the-glass offerings to 400 over the past four years. Here the average spend has also increased, from about NKr150 to NKr180-200 per glass. When it comes to bottles, guests gladly pay NKr600 to NKr1000.

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Territoriet

Although a few places now focus on natural wines, the trend has yet to grip the country. Consumers do care about sustainability though, and organic and biodynamic wines are increasingly popular. Millennials have so far tended to drink less than Generation X, and focus on wines rather than on spirits. This being said, cocktail bars in the big cities are exciting and plentiful. It seems the saying “Don’t drink less, drink better!” is finally gaining ground in the far north of Europe.

 

Liora Levi 

 

This article first appeared in Issue 2, 2019 of Meininger's Wine Business International

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