Dimensional Insight Book Club: Proof - The Science of BoozeHave you ever thought about how your favorite wine or drink is produced? Our discussions about the wine and spirits industry have mainly focused on the impact of technology on businesses, whether it be incorporating analytics for long-term strategic planning, gaining additional insights into sales data, or understanding consumer preferences. However, we don’t talk too much about the science behind creating the perfect drink. Until now.

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For the past six weeks, we have been enjoying the second read in the Dimensional Insight Book Club. We have been busy reading, Proof: The Science of Booze, whether trying to enjoy the spring weather or with a glass of wine. Curious as to what our readers thought about the book?

Meet our panel

Our book club panel for Proof consists of Rose Weinberger, senior marketing manager; Terry Nolan, regional sales director for the beverage alcohol industry; Doug Powers, product manager for our DiveTab mobile product; Kathy Sucich, senior content and communications manager; and myself. Here are our thoughts on this book.

The Dimensional Insight book club panel. From L-R: Rose Weinberger, Terry Nolan, Doug Powers, Kathy Sucich, and Natalie Cantave.

Q: As someone who works in the wine and spirits business, what is your main takeaway from the book?

Rose: My main takeaway would be that the chemistry of booze is complicated! Any drink that tastes incredible should be respected for all the complexity behind creating it.

Terry: There’s lots of chemistry, historical alchemy, and aging on alcohol worldwide. I had no idea about the different strains of yeast, rice, barley and how they react to make sugars that yeast then consumes. It’s a really good look at the chemistry of the alcohol production business. More and more, it seems that flavors and smells are measured by mass spectrometers! I’ll never look at a drink again in the same way as before I read Proof. There’s so much that goes into making a product.

Kathy: Well, I knew that the “selling” part of the wine and spirits business was difficult, with challenges such as the three-tier system, competition, and trying to do a lot with sometimes limited budgets. But after reading this book, I gained an appreciation for how hard all the stuff is before the sales process. Understanding fermentation, distilling, aging—it was all really geeky (interesting!) stuff. I can now be the nerd at the party explaining to friends how their drink of choice was really made.

Natalie: I didn’t realize how much goes into producing alcohol. I remember learning about fermentation in school but didn’t realize how complex the distilling process was. It was really eye-opening for me to hear about the complexity behind the chemistry of alcohol. After reading Proof, I have a greater sense of understanding into the wine and spirits business.

Q: Adam Rogers breaks down the science behind alcohol production. Based on his storytelling throughout the book, how can suppliers and distributors incorporate analytics to improve their production processes?

Kathy: This passage from the end of the book stood out to me: “We humans were making booze before we had science, much less a science of booze. Now that we know more, we have more control over the whole process.” This was talking more about the biology and chemistry aspects of alcohol production, but I think we can apply this to analytics. We can now use analytics to better understand the production process and have more control over it. I think there are immense opportunities for suppliers to use analytics to better understand consumer preferences and trends, which will help them determine which grapes to plant for which wine varietals (see Biltmore Wines case study for an example) or which types of alcohol will gain popularity. In addition, suppliers can use analytics to optimize production processes by reducing downtime and improving workflow.

Natalie: After attending the WSWA 75th Annual Convention and Exposition earlier this month, I learned how our customers as well as those in the industry are using analytics within the wine and spirits business. I definitely think there are opportunities for suppliers and distributors to use analytics to better track data and quotas, manage their salesforce, know where their products are being sold, and understand consumer preferences. I also think analytics will play a greater role in optimizing production processes within the industry.

Rose: Suppliers and distributors need to measure and track everything: temperatures, humidity, quantities, times, and on and on! It is only through observation and analysis that one can uncover where things are working and where they are not…and then look for improvements.

Terry: Science, chemistry and data! The portion of the book which focused on distilling was eye-opening to me. Most whiskeys are distilled in eight locations throughout the U.S., the largest being in Indiana. From there, they mix and add flavor to each of their individual products. This is where the marketing of the product to consumers begins. The correct packaging (bottle, shape, size, label) then become important in telling the product’s story to the consumers. Throughout history, humans have created a place for alcohol in our lives. That being said, suppliers and wholesalers need to include data and analytics to understand who is buying what products, and why. This involves collecting data from consumers (on and off-premise), clubs, bars, restaurants, and retail locations. The more you know and understand, the better off you are as a wholesaler and supplier. Making sense of this data is what we do at Dimensional Insight.

Q: The following quote would describe the industry’s objectives: “…the design of a label, the shape of a bottle, or the décor of a bar may just be as important as what’s actually being poured.” Based on this quote, what impact does psychology play on consumer decisions and how can those in the industry work to better understand customers and their preferences?

Terry: It’s all in the product’s story line and marketing. Sure, there has to be a good product in the bottle, can, or package. The taste-testing of the product should give distillers a hint on how special that product really is in the mind of a consumer. But minds are funny things. The package, place where the drink is imbibed, or a toast to something special all impact how and why consumers purchase products. For example, I see a new Vodka brand enter the market, and I think to myself “Do we really need a new Vodka?” I guess, with the proper package, marketing, and taste, we do.

Kathy: Psychology plays a huge role in consumer decisions. I may be a bit biased here, but I think wine and spirits organizations can better understand consumers and their preferences through more data-driven practices. Take, for example, Campari America. I visited the company’s office in San Francisco earlier this year, and I talked to the organization about how it uses data to understand preferences. Back when the recession hit about 10 years ago, people stopped going out to eat and focused more on staying in to save money. Campari America was able to recognize that through data analysis and started to focus more on providing consumers with a better in-home experience. Through data, Campari America was able to both better understand its customer and maintain its profits during a difficult economic period.

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Natalie Cantave

Natalie Cantave

Natalie Cantave is a product marketing manager at Dimensional Insight. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology from Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH.
Natalie Cantave