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Can The Wine Industry Afford to Ignore DEI Initiatives?

DEI in wine

What the Supreme Court and Corporations May Signal about Diversity in Wine

By Erin Ortiz

In 2020, small minority-owned businesses and employment flourished under DEI initiatives by major wine industry players like Constellation Brands and The Napa Valley Vintners trade group. However, in less than one election cycle, amid an ailing economy, and pushback from the conservative groups, DEI initiatives are closing even faster than they were created. ‘“I’ve seen companies who created DEI departments three years ago close them altogether,” says Ikimi Dubose-Woodson, co-founder and CEO of the Roots Fund, in a Washington Post interview. That said, among declining wine sales and the largest, most diverse generation on earth coming of age, can the wine industry afford to ignore DEI initiatives?

DEI Initiatives Takes Off

DEI initiatives spiked between 2020 and 2021 fueled by the murder of George Floyd, and a feeling of unity during a global pandemic. On May 15, 2023, following his courageous battle with Mickey Mouse, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill to ban funding for DEI programs in the state’s public colleges and universities. On June 29th of the same year, the Supreme Court ruled that race-conscious admissions are a violation of the 14th Amendment in a sobering reminder that elections have consequences. Consequently, DEI job postings declined by 44% in 2023. By March of 2024, the US House Office of Diversity and Inclusion was eliminated. 

Corporations are backsliding on their promises to create a more equitable workplace and slashing entire DEI departments practically overnight. Emboldened by a right-leaning Supreme Court some states are banning workplace affirmative action. According to ABC News, a Harvard study found that after the ban, hiring of women and men of color reduced dramatically while the hiring of white men increased. 

Diversifying Workforce

These emotionally driven job cuts are short-sighted. Boomers, the largest supporters of conservative policies, are dying and retiring just as the oldest Gen Zers, of whom just 17% are Republican, enter the labor force. ABC News confirms, “Diversity has also proven to be good for business, according to several studies that indicate that companies that are more diverse are more innovative and in turn, more profitable.”

The idea that racism is bad for business isn’t slowing down the efforts of conservatives or corporations to maintain its stranglehold on an ever growing socially conscious world. It’s not surprising that they will fight to maintain the vehicles that have provided them with power and wealth, but the wine industry can’t afford to be in lockstep. 

The Wine Industry

With all of that going on outside the industry, wine sales have stagnated since 2016, and have steadily declined since 2021. In 2023 they decreased by 3%. Currently, the biggest consumers of wine are baby boomers, while Millenials and Gen Z gravitate toward liquors, hard seltzers, and alcohol alternatives. “Data surrounding DEI efforts in the wine industry is hard to come by—which itself signals a need for further progress”, according to a 2023 Sevenfifty article. Past and current data regarding the efforts of the hard liquor industry are a bit more readily available. The American Craft Spirits Association highlights that increasing diversity is a priority on their “about” page

Gen Z is the most racially and ethnically diverse group in history. They are also the largest. Studies have shown that their purchasing habits correlate strongly with their values. While currently, the data suggests that they prefer other beverage alternatives to wine, they provide an opportunity to save a struggling industry. 

It’s time for the wine industry to break with tradition and exclusivity and aggressively pursue transparency in DEI initiatives and social progress for all. Pivoting away from the reputation as a luxury item, an identity valued by Boomers, and rebranding itself as an every person’s beverage could hold the key to a rebound in wine sales. As the country and the workforce continue to be dismissive of Gen Z’s values, the wine industry should take the counterpoint and highlight the industry positives: a sense of community and fun. In order to connect with a generation who wants to identify with their chosen brands, embracing DEI, championing relevant social causes, and amplifying minority-owned start-ups holds the key to a wine industry comeback.

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