Consumer preferences for Certified Wines in France: A Comparison of Sustainable Labels

Adeline Alonso Ugaglia, UMR INRAE 1065 SAVE, ISVV, Bordeaux Sciences Agro

Britta Niklas, University Bochum

Wolfram Rinke, Fachhochschule Burgenland GmbH

Jeff Gow, University of Southern Queensland

Daniel Moscovici, Stockton University

The French wine industry dates back to ancient times and holds an important place in the French economy, representing the 2ndlargest net trade surplus and creating numerous jobs in rural regions (Alonso Ugaglia et al., 2019; Cardebat, 2017; Porter and Takeuchi, 2013). French wines have an excellent reputation, based mainly on appellation regulations (Protected Designation of Origin [PDOs] and Protected Geographical Indications [PGIs]), but since the 1970’s the production and consumption of wine have been experiencing a long-term decline in France. At the same time, the wine industry has been facing a number of environmental and social challenges (Delmas et al., 2008) in the form of the growth of societal demands for more environmentally-friendly and ethical practices in the vineyards and the cellars. Sustainable development (SD) certification has, thus, became a critical success factor (Sampedro, 2010), turning the wine industry into a ‘green business’ (Silverman et al., 2005).

On the demand side, consumers are increasingly demanding to know what inputs are used in food production and processing, to know producers’ labor standards, and to understand the environmental impacts of production (Paloviita, 2010; Pullman et al., 2009; Trienekens et al., 2012). Additionally, the wine industry is under considerable pressure from regulators to evaluate, reduce, and report its environmental and social impacts (Christ and Burritt, 2013), and to incorporate sustainability into its management practices. The attributes of a wine, however, whether ethical, social or environmental, are not verifiable by consumers before purchase, or even after purchase and consumption in the case of sustainability attributes. Producers, therefore, must adopt a symbol on the bottle to solve this asymmetric information attribute. This symbol, SD certification or label, attests the compliance of the wine with a certain norm or a standard (Hoberika et al., 2013). It informs consumers and differentiates a wine from other wines (Giraud-Héraud and Hoffman, 2010).Until now, however, it has not been known whether consumers perceive wine companies’ efforts to obtain SD certifications and labels as being valuable (Barber et al., 2010) or how they differentiate between the various SD labels. In practice, the diffusion of such labels is still limited (Delmas and Gergaud, 2021). The way the consumers perceive the labels is therefore still an issue of discussion (Ashenfelter et al., 2018).On the supply side, the wine sector has seen the emergence of specific eco-certification schemes and labelling programs, including SD specifications, in response to this demand (Sogari et al., 2016), leading to a proliferation of voluntary and institutional social and environmental certification systems (McEwan and Bek, 2009). In this sense, we observe the development of multiple SD labels such as Biodynamic, Fairtrade, Natural, and Sustainable (Moscovici and Reed, 2018; Moscovici et al., 2020), corresponding to different definitions of what a sustainable wine can be.

Sustainable wine production has also been increasing, not only for marketing purposes, but also because of wine producers’ personal convictions (Alonso Ugaglia et al., 2017). However, producers in many countries associate ‘sustainability’ mainly with the environmental dimension and sometimes confuse the different terms and SD labels (Szolnoki, 2013). They complain about the lack of information about SD wine labels and the associated potential added value. One option for producers to choose the best certification for their wines considering the many choices could be to know more about consumers’ preferences for SD certified wines and how these drive preference-based purchasing decisions (Poelmans and Rousseau, 2017; Tozer et al., 2015), as consumer perception is indeed an important issue to take into consideration when making business decisions (Lockshin and Corsi, 2012; Mariani and Vastola, 2015).


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