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Cheap wines push consumption upward
By Deborah Pankey | Daily Herald Food Editor

Chef Takashi Yagahashi will appear at Macy's in Oak Brook Center to share tips on hosting a dinner party.


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Published: 9/23/2009 12:01 AM

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Times may be tough, but when it comes to cutting back we're not cutting back on wine.

Overall wine consumption in the U.S. climbed a fraction, 0.9 percent, in 2008 to 294.7 million 9-liter cases, according to the Beverage Information Group's recently released 2009 Wine Handbook.

While that growth has slowed, 2008 still signals the 15th consecutive year of gains.

So who's drinking and what are they drinking?

Consumers have become more frugal with their purchases at restaurants and liquor shops, trading down toward value-priced wines. I know I'm more likely to walk past the $18 bottles and grab a $6 bottle instead. And the bottles we're grabbing tend to be domestic, thanks to the weakened dollar and the rising cost of imported wines.

"Imported wines dropped 1.8 percent, while domestics rose 1.9 percent - a stark contrast to the recent trend when imported table wines fueled not only the growth of that sector, but of the entire industry," says Eric Schmidt, spokesman for the Beverage Information Group based in Norwalk, Conn.

Still, those in my generation looking for a glass after work to melt away the day's stresses aren't the ones fueling the growth. The 70 million people in the "Millennial" generation (age 21 to 30) are changing perceptions of wine. They don't perceive wine as stuffy and aren't as sophisticated about wine as their parents and grandparents so they're more willing to experiment with lower-priced varieties.

In addition, the link between moderate wine consumption and decreased risk of heart disease, cancer and stroke remains a key driver of wine's popularity among an increasingly health-conscious society. Seems like a good investment in our health, and the health of the U.S. economy.

Cutting costs: We're not just looking for cheaper wine, we're looking to cut costs in all store aisles. Yet, according to Nielsen's Homescan, coupon use is up by just a small percent of households.

Avid coupon cutters, called "coupon enthusiasts," are households that purchased 104 or more items using manufacturers' coupons in the last six months. The 10 percent of shoppers that fall into this category accounted for 62 percent of coupon use during the six-month period. Just over 81 percent of the units purchased using manufacturer coupons came from just 19 percent of U.S. households.

Still, the recession is driving heavier coupon usage among all types of consumers as many lighter users have become heavier users. Redemptions for nonfood items were up 46 percent while food coupon redemptions were up 27 percent in the second quarter of 2009. Overall, 1.6 billion coupons were redeemed in the first half of 2009.

"Without question, coupon usage is undergoing a renaissance," said Todd Hale, senior vice president, consumer and shopping insights for Nielsen. "More consumers are looking for value and lower prices as retailers and manufacturers are distributing more coupons and making it easier for consumers to leverage technology to access coupons they want with less effort."

So how are you trimming your food budget and stretching your meal dollars? I'd love to hear your strategies. E-mail me at food or post your comments on the discussion board at Daily Herald Food fans on Facebook.

Tasty tips: Sample bites from acclaimed chef Takashi Yagahashi while learning how to create tablescapes and properly mix beverages for an inviting dinner party at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 24, at Macy's store at Oak Brook Center.

The evening is part of Macy's and Feeding America's initiative to celebrate the renaissance of cooking at home and contribute 10 million meals for domestic hunger.

The "Come Together" campaign invites customers to host dinners in their homes, but ask their guests to donate to Feeding America in lieu of the traditional hostess gift of a dish or bottle of wine. Macy's will match customer donations dollar for dollar until it reaches 10 million meals.

Since opening Takashi in December 2007, chef Yagahashi has received praise from Esquire Magazine and Chicago Magazine; his noodle shop, Noodles, opened inside Macy's State Street store in 2006.

Tickets for Thursday's event cost $15 (cash and check only) and all proceeds benefit the Northern Illinois Food Bank. R.S.V.P. at (630) 684-2501.

- Deborah Pankey

• Contact Food Editor Deborah Pankey at or (847) 427-4524. Listen to her discuss food trends and restaurant news on Restaurant Radio Chicago, 5 to 6 p.m. Saturdays on WIND 560 AM.