How to Do Competitive Market Research—and Why Alcohol Brand Owners and Managers Should Be Doing More of It

Tips on how to leverage research now that alcohol brands have greater visibility into the marketplace than ever before

Illustration by Larry Lee.
This article was produced in collaboration with SevenFifty.

Ah So Insights’ Scott Rosenbaum brings ideas and inspiration to wine and spirits professionals. Here, he shares best practices for importers and producers. Also read his article on New Strategies for Building Your Brand

No product is an island. Literally, your beer or wine or spirit resides on a shelf, list, or database with dozens, if not hundreds, of other similar products. Your tequila can be found with other tequilas; your Côtes du Rhône is nestled between two other Côtes du Rhônes. In this way, a product’s value is relative not just to its own quality but also to a buyer’s expectations for its category. These expectations are born from a buyer’s experiences with your competitors’ prices, packaging, narratives, and so much more. This is why every brand, regardless of size, must  understand the broader marketplace.  

The Power of Contextualizing the Market

Competitive market research is a powerful tool that contextualizes your brand and your products in the field. After all, it’s hard to get to where you want to be if you don’t know where you already are. If you’re seeking distribution for the first time, it is critical to learn how many similarly positioned SKUs exist. Being informed allows you to speak confidently to potential distribution partners about your product’s rightful place in a portfolio, instead of being lectured on how “crowded” that segment is.

Conducting competitive market research isn’t just for nascent brands. If you’re looking to expand your distribution into new geographies, knowing whether or not your products will have price parity across the nation is of utmost importance. Further, entering new markets means exposure to new competitors that might not have been previously available in your established market. Familiarizing yourself with an area’s local offerings lets you address concerns about your products’ position before you get there. Since no two markets are alike, your brand might be entering a territory where there is increased pricing pressure, less interest in its “hometown hero” status, or different trade practices. Research best prepares you to address the objections that commonly arise from being unfamiliar with a new market.

Know that research is not a recipe, or some strict formula. 

Some of your greatest findings may arise from serendipity rather than from following a prescriptive set of rules. That being noted, equipping yourself with some foundational research techniques primes you for success, regardless of where your insights come from. 

Here are a few of my favorite methods for conducting competitive market research for alcohol brands.

Attend a Tasting as a Participant and Not a Pourer

If you want to meet someone who likes independent films, you likely won’t meet them at the premiere of the latest Fast & Furious movie. It’s better to go to the arthouse theater. Well, if you want to understand the comps to your product, it’s worth attending the portfolio tasting of the distributor you want to work with. Doing so will help you envision how your products might fit in their catalog. The first competition your products will face come from within a portfolio, not outside of it. If you already have a distributor, make sure someone from your company attends their tasting as an attendee with a bird’s-eye view and not just as a pourer behind a table.

Use Trade-Specific Research Tools

If you’re only relying on for market insights, you’re getting a very incomplete picture. You’ll probably have to pay for trade-specific research tools, but they can be invaluable in helping you understand the market and get ahead. 

IRI, Nielsen, and Euromonitor all track consumer product goods (CPGs) and have specialized datasets pertaining to beverage alcohol. While your company might not have a large enough budget to access these resources, your importer or wholesaler might be able to pull the info you need if you ask the right person nicely. Wine Business Monthly regularly publishes Nielsen data, and a digital subscription is free. Shanken News Daily is an affordable industry newsletter with a focus on the U.S.; it will keep you abreast of new product introductions, brand launches by distributors, and goings-on in control states.  

SevenFifty Daily’s parent company, SevenFifty, is another trade-specific resource for competitive research. Conduct a thorough market search on SevenFifty’s online marketplace to glean data on new states and analyze your competitive set in any territory. Want to know how many liter-sized vodka SKUs are available for wholesale in New Jersey? How about organic Chianti that wholesales for less than $15 a bottle in Illinois? Now you needn’t guess. A subscription to their supplier service will grant visibility to their national database so you can  quickly review pricing across states to make sure everything is in order. The best research corroborates a mix of multiple data sources and translates your findings into an action plan.

Build Relationships with Local Retailers

You’d be surprised what you can get if you ask.

Want to know what the retail market for New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs is like in Atlanta, Georgia? Just ask. 

Speak with a retailer there; send them an email or pick up a phone. All too many suppliers assume they need to lurk and snoop when they’d be much better served by simply asking. Alcohol professionals love to talk shop. Allow them the opportunity to share. Not only will you be learning about the market, but you’ll also be connecting with a potential customer. 

Research is a Sales Tool

While the B2B alcohol market is more transparent than ever, the internet has only begun to democratize how trade buyers find and purchase their beer, wine, spirits, and more. The past barriers to information that corralled buyers are crumbling and their freedom to explore a wider array of products is expanding; it’s research that will help reveal your products’ specific value to a market so you can sell smarter. Just because a product “clicks” in one market doesn’t mean it will work in another. 

Markets reward brands that possess the ability to discernsensitivities to pricing, popularity of certain categories, and competitive sets. 

Look at the success of wine glass company Riedel. The company understands its markets which is why it’s able to sell different stemware lines to such disparate stores as upscale Williams-Sonoma and everyday Bed Bath & Beyond. This is why competitive market research so often plays a vital role in a brand’s success. Remember: This is not a one-size-fits-all business. What is true, however, is that the best place to start market research is wherever you choose to begin.  


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Scott Rosenbaum is CEO of Ah So Insights, a wine and spirit industry newsletter and consultancy. Scott was formerly the vice president of T. Edward Wines & Spirits, a New York-based importer and distributor.

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