Christian Miller has worked in marketing and market research for over two decades. Since 2005, he’s been proprietor and director of Full Glass Research, one of the top wine market intelligence agencies in the US. Full Glass Research provides economic and marketing analysis and advice on market and industry strategy for the food and beverage categories. Full Glass Research also helped launch the Wine Opinions national consumer and trade panels and advises Wine Opinions on research design and interpretation.
What are the biggest changes you have seen/are seeing in the wine industry?
There is less deference to quality hierarchies or established brands, and more experimentation by consumers. In the U.S. the distribution “hourglass” has gotten more exaggerated, with more products, more retail-level opportunities but tighter and more crowded paths to market. The rise in craft beer and cocktails combined with the breakdown in pairing of specific beverages to specific uses will be a challenge to wine down the road, although currently those trends are correlating positively across the beer and wine categories.
And what are the most significant changes you expect to see in the future?
The question of whether wine can maintain its grip on the position of the most artisanal, flavorful, natural and authentic alcoholic beverage is an open one. If not, wine will have to become more competitive in other usage occasions or mental niches. Another trend that leads to a different future is the acceleration of SKU and brand proliferation, and the near-instant replication of every successful new product by competitors. Even the larger wine companies are supporting this trend. Will anyone build brands over the long term or will everyone be consumed by tactical considerations? We can apply research to both types of issues, but it could get exhausting for the brand managers.
What would you consider to have been the best decision of your business life?
I would like to think it is yet to come! But looking back, I might say my original decision to jump into the wine category years ago (my previous job was actually as an operations analyst at Merrill Lynch). It may not have been the most lucrative one, but when I think of my family, and the places I have been and people I’ve met, it’s been rewarding otherwise. I could also add that the decision to obtain an MBA and take a quantitative approach to what is often thought of as an industry of intuition and passion has given me a unique and useful perspective.
Which was the one you might take differently, with the benefit of hindsight?
Should have invested in high quality French vineyards in the mid-to-late 80s when the franc was weak. Even at that young age, I had a gut feeling that I should do it, but not the connections, resources or gumption to do so. People are always underestimating or writing off France – even French people I know do this. For as long as I’ve been involved in business, people have been saying France is too expensive, it’s taken the wrong path, “apres ça, le deluge”, etc. Some things need to be changed, but it always muddles through and eventually leverages its tremendous strengths. Especially now, we should remember this.
And can you name another sector you think has the most to teach the wine industry?
There is much to be learned from the craft beer industry right now, in terms of positioning, seasonality, experimentation, at least for the U.S. market. Oddly enough, sometimes it looks like craft brewers are intent on importing some of the mistakes of the wine industry, in certain flavor trends, excess complexity and disregard for perceptions of ordinary consumers. So it goes both ways. I think the music industry as it used to be structured had some interesting parallels to wine, but technology has changed all that now.
Interview conducted by Robert Joseph
Christian Miller will be speaking at Wine Vision in Bilbao, 9-11 December. Meininger’s Wine Business International is a media partner.