Bye Bye Beer — Gen Y Is All About the Wine

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A study released by the Wine Market Council earlier this year stated that, as of January 1, 2016, every Millennial is officially of legal drinking age. In fact, according to the WMC, 36% of Gen   Y-ers are drinking wine compared to 34% of Boomers with Gen Y wine consumption up 10% over the last two years. Whether these numbers are exact or, as some have said, somewhat exaggerated, wine producers have jumped on the Millennial bandwagon offering up novel approaches to wine advertising and consumption that cater to this generation’s demand for a challenging triumvirate of novelty, quality, and value.

If You Box It, They Will Drink

Balancing these elements is a collection of new brands that have been developed with the Millennial in mind, as well as established companies pushing the development envelope. Boxed wine is ripe for Millennial engagement, tapping into their lack of pretension coupled with a willingness to try what those before scorned. Further, there is a sort of hip, eco-appeal to boxed wine since it leaves a smaller footprint. Public House with its “Love Wine, Hate Pretension?” slogan zeroes in on the Gen Y zeitgeist. The brown cardboard packaging with black block letters appeals to this gen’s sense of clean, uncluttered style.

Yes, You Can 

Canned wine, which gained some respectability with the 2005 inception of Sofia from Francis Ford Coppola, is another arena ripe for Millennial picking. Man Can’s slogan, “Shut up and drink”, is targeted without apology at the beer-drinking male market. Creator Graham Veysey, who goes by the title Head Wine Guy, has no illusions about his brand. It’s non-vintage and non-varietal. It simply comes in red, white, and sparkling choices, with grapes sourced from a California vintner. The single serving size (actually a half bottle of wine), portability, and $4.99 price point are a winning combination. Moreover, Veysey’s non-vintage approach means that his product will maintain a certain consistency year after year, just like beer.

Photo courtesy of Barefoot Wines

Photo courtesy of Barefoot Wines

Wine in a can works because it is so non-traditional. Millennials tend to see themselves are trendsetters who want others to know what they are up to, hence their love affair with social media. The Drop, a rosé wine in a can, uses Instagram to promote their lifestyle slogan @thatrosélife. Photos range from clever diagrams touting rosé’s drinkability to a shot of Macaulay Culkin in “Home Alone”, lounging in a limo with a glass of wine. The Drop is just one of many brands that are investing more energy digitally; according to Foodable Labs data, wine producers have increased digital media spending by 27% over last year with their top targets being craft beer drinkers. Instagram and Facebook alone have seen a 31% increase in engagement.

Word of Mouth Works

Gallo’s Barefoot Wine, which has captured a top tier market share with its laid back name and breezy vibe, relies less on old school advertising and more on word of mouth. It doesn’t hurt that in the digital age “word of mouth” can be instantaneous. Barefoot’s message is unabashedly simple. As their website says, “We think wine tastes better in a tee than a tux.” This intentional demystification of wine replaces pomp with puns like “you gotta have sole” and “creating a footprint”. Millennial drinkers embrace such breezy attitude, while also appreciating the comfortable $6 price tag. Earlier this year, Barefoot released an 8.4 ounce canned wine called Refresh Spritzer, clearly targeting the younger drinker. 

In a Marketwatch article from 2015, E & J Gallo’s vice president of marketing Stephanie Gallo offered a clear explanation of what drives Millennial buying habits when she said, “Millennials are substantially impacting the growth of the entire wine category. They tend to take a more casual approach to drinking wine, are very interested in finding great values and are unwilling to compromise on quality.” And, because Millennials don’t see wine as being relegated to special occasions, it is now easily competing with beer as a go-to beverage for sipping with friends. This may well be the reason behind the fact that wine occasions have lifted 14% in the past six months, according to Foodable Labs data.

Off the Beaten Path

While this casual approach has opened the door to the acceptance of canned and boxed wines, it has also laid the groundwork for interest in esoteric regions and wine styles. Millennials are more likely to try an under-the-radar Tannat from Texas than a California Chardonnay. Provenance is less important than the idea of authenticity. Millennials want to be the first to discover something, as well as the first to report on it. 

Unlike earlier generations, Gen Y was born into technology and it is the primary way the demographic communicates. VinePair, a website dedicated to wine education, was founded by a Millennial for the Millennial. Its approach is the antithesis of the Robert Parker school of wine, eschewing ratings for the experiential stories that draw in this audience.  VinePair’s reviews are conversational, quick reads. Their lifestyle stories bridge the gap between education, humor, and simple human interest.

It’s going to take some time before the wine business pins down exactly what makes Millennials tick. The reason for this is that Millennials are still figuring out themselves. In the journey to define their generational culture, they are open-minded and ever-changing. If it’s new, they are intrigued. If it’s offbeat, they aren’t put off. The wine world can only benefit from this eager attitude. For the moment, the lesson learned is simple: Whether in a box, a can, or a bottle, offer novelty and quality at a price and let them drink wine.