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A few reasons to challenge accepted wisdom on Millennials and the wine category

MUST: Fermenting Ideas, a brand-new wine summit launched this summer in suburban Lisbon, has just announced it will return next year. A forum where winemakers, marketers and merchants could join forces to mull over the current ideas, trends, opportunities and challenges of the wine industry, this year’s debut event has impressed a normally sceptical industry.

While the beautiful seaside location in Cascais did its best to charm attendees, the event’s success hinged on the two classic pillars of good conference: well-informed and lively speakers, but also a strong quorum of industry leaders in the audience who were there to engage and debate the big problems facing the world of wine.  The event drew almost 500 participants from over twenty countries, who heard thoughtful talks from Meininger’s Wine Business International Editor Felicity Carter, and the wine critic Jamie Goode, among others.

There was also a talk from our own Lulie Halstead, “Do we need to talk about Millennials?”, which was voted the best presentation of the 3-day summit. Her thesis: to recognise the behaviour and values of the generation born after 1985 who are now integrating into the wine category, we’ve got to stop believing some of the hype about this generation, and start looking at the data.

For instance, “Millennials don’t watch TV”. Actually, they do. The average American watches 4 hours 59 minutes of TV per day; a Millennial clocks 4 hours and 8 minutes of screen time, rising to 4 hours 40 if they’re starting a family. “Millennials want flexible work hours”? According to an Ernst & Young study, it is Generation X-ers who are the most likely to turn down a job that doesn’t offer enough flexibility. Itchy feet aren’t the sole preserve of the Millennial generation either; between the ages 18-25, Millennials average 6.3 different jobs (including casual work and summer jobs). Back in the day, Generation X averaged 6.2 jobs during the same period. And Baby Boomers? 5.5.

Having said all that, Wine Intelligence’s research into the post 1985 generation does reveal some meaningful shifts in behaviour within the wine category which may prove to have long-term influence. In our studies for the Global Consumer Trends 2017 report, we noted that Millennials over-index on the importance of two trends which we’ve dubbed Individual and Activate. The Individual trend is concerned with self-expression and personalisation; Millennials like products that say something about themselves. The Activate trend is about engaging people in unusual, arresting ways – like taking a product out of its natural context and forcing consumers to use the product in a new environment (Tesco’s finest* pop-up wine bar is a good example). Both trends are concerned with the self, and with spontaneity, so perhaps in light of this it’s not surprising that Millennials under-index on our Community trend (supporting local community organisations and activities), which requires more planned behaviour and stable living situations, even though the current Millennial mythology would have us believe that supporting community values are paramount within this demographic.

Then there is the classic marketing bear-trap of thinking that Millennials are all the same (guilty as charged for the paragraph above). Within the wine category, there are some significant attitudinal differences among Millennials. According to our research, they fall into three buckets.  There are Epicureans, Millennials who view wine as a ‘grown-up’ drink and actively seek out information about wine, are typically adventurous, and explore beyond the mainstream. Developers are open to influence but are more risk-averse. They will occasionally try new varietals and regions of origin, but otherwise stick to their core beverage repertoire as a safe choice. Peripherals are passive consumers, not understanding – and often not caring to understand – what they are drinking. For them, wine doesn’t possess the same cool factor as batch processed hard liquor, craft beers and ciders.

What does this tell us? That the same diversity of attitudes amongst regular wine drinkers can also be found amongst Millennials, and reflect the high, medium and low involved segments that we see among wine drinking populations generally the world over. Millennials are not so different after all – just a bit younger.

Author: James Wainscott

Email: james@wineintelligence.com