fuzionYou may or may not have read about it but Beppi Crosariol over at the Globe and Mail wrote about the overwhelming popularity of Fuzion with consumers at the LCBO.

Apparently, it’s the number four product sold at everyone’s favorite provincial monopoly (right behind Heineken, Corona and Smirnoff vodka) What’s interesting to me is how a wine from Argentina, with no advertising and plenty of approving worth-of-mouth, has bumped Bacardi from the fourth spot to play the field with those perpetually-popular big boys of booze.

Corona spent a total of $30 million on print advertising alone last year. Heineken spent $50 million launching Heineken Premium Light (a fuckin’ light beer of all things…). I would imagine Smirnoff spends less (being a Canadian company and not having quite the global dominance of the first two brands) but it probably throws way more money into its advertising than Zuccardi does.

What then, can account for the love people have for Fuzion, the little wine that could? Beppi (I don’t know him but it’s kind of fun to call him that, try it) noted that some folks accused him of fanning the flames of its popularity with his approval of the affordable red that delivers a big taste for its price.

While Mr. Crosariol may have fueled the fire roaring under Fuzion, he didn’t spark it. Toronto Life, NOW Magazine, the National Post and the Toronto Star all reported on the phenomenon but to truly understand what’s going on here, we should look to Malcolm Gladwell and his classifaction of the stages of societal adoption of new ideas/products/etc. known as the diffusion model.

You have the Innovators, the visionaries who prize revolutionary change and will take risks to try out whatever’s new and interesting. The Early Adopters come next. They watch the innovators, evaluate what they do and join in.

Because of the Internet and greater saturation of writing on wine, approval of Fuzion was able to quickly spread in tandem with more personal methods of recommendation. These early adopters congregate on forums like Chowhound and the innovators, those who pay attention to these forums, in turn write and talk about this information through their own channels which is then filtered into the consciousness of the majority. This is where Beppi and Co come in.

They’re followed by the Early and Late Majorities; those people who while they may not have their finger on what cool kids are doing pay attention to the media and other critics.  With this media attention, you can bet the Laggards, those of us who value tradition and the tried-tested-and-true, will finally start paying attention and the next six months will either see them adopt it as a red wine standard (a la Yellowtail) or pass on it as a fad.

There are a couple of factors that will definitely affect whether this adoption takes place. While the change from the 2007 varietal to the 2008 went unnoticed by many, a sharp dip in quality could leave a bad flavor in some people’s mouths and result in a drop in sales.

Also, raising the price could lead to Fuzion competing with a higher quality of wine, at least in some people’s eyes and also result in a drop in its popularity. A similar thing (albeit on a much smaller scale) happened with Les Jamelles, a winery from France. Beloved by merchants and restaurateurs alike, it quickly became must-have by-the-glass option for those looking for that magical Old World median between price and quality. However, increased demand led to a lack of availabilty and was quickly followed by a rise in price. While it still has a good reputation (it’s merlot and sauvignon blanc are both very fine) it’s been replaced by The Next Thing on many a wine list.

Mind you, Les Jamelle’s merlot was never available at the LCBO and they never had to deal with fickle consumers. A change in cost could drastically affect Fuzion’s market share, particularly because one of the wine’s chief selling points is its $7.45 ticket price. While adding a couple of dollars may not seem like a big deal, a shopper at the LCBO may pass on a more expensive Fuzion, particularly if they remember reading about how it used to cost less or worse, they remember buying it for less. On overcrowded wine shelves with the LCBO carefully tracking its process, a severe enough dip in sales could mark Fuzion for eventual delisting.

Another good example is Bohemian, secretly brewed by Molson. The go-to beer for those of us looking to throw cheap parties, art gallery-openings and what-have-you, it was sold for an unbelievable $26 a case! Not only that but it tasted better than all of the other discount brands out there.  There were plenty of times I’d go to The Beer Store looking to get a couple of cases only to find that they were sold out.

When the price was raised to $28, suddenly Bohemian became way less appealing. It began to compete with beers that were, quite frankly, much better and while I don’t have any hard numbers to back me up, I don’t see Bohemian at many parties I go to and I bet you anything they don’t sell half as much as they used to.

The appeal of Fuzion goes beyond its attractive price point and has quite a bit to do with society’s perceived learning curve when it comes to appreciating wine. Many people simply don’t know what wine they should by. Its taken forever to get beyond simple denotations of “red” and “white” and now we find folks talking about “liking chardonnays” or “hating pinot”.

These people are intimidated by wine. They don’t have a McDonald’s equivalent of beer (say Heineken) from which to base their expectations on. Imagine someone coming along and saying there’s a terrific, cheap wine out there that works pretty well with lots of different food and can be consumed rather casually? I would hazard a guess that that would be quite a relief for your average joe staring at twenty-odd bottles in front of him.

Also, there’s the self-fulfilling pride “the expert” can take in recommending a sure thing plucked from the depths of relative obscurity. This person becomes, at least temporarily, cool. They know about what’s going on, even if its tangential knowledge, and unlike beer or liquor, having a working knowledge of wine is something that’s generally considered to be an admirable skill.

Even those of who know some things still can appreciate a good recommendation. I was introduced to Fuzion through my neighbor Jacqueline Rendell, who brought over a bottle one day. She in turn had been given a few bottles from a friend of hers who really liked them. I ended up buying half-a-dozen bottles of my own over the winter and I mentioned Fuzion in my post about the best, cheap booze in Ontario. Several people who read this blog have subsequently told me that they now stock their home with Fuzion on a regular basis and we only have to go back to Beppi to see that this is a personal example of what’s happening all over Ontario and Quebec.

As knowledge of Fuzion reaches its “tipping point”, this will have less of an impact but for now, Fuzion’s cool image will undoubtedly benefit from the advice of whomever we turn to for wine info and its price will only sweeten the deal.

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