Invasion of the 20-somethings
The Drinks Business recently posted an article entitled The Millennial Drinker. It says, in short, that 18-25 year olds will account for 40% of American drinkers in the next decade (strange considering the drinking age is 21?!) and that these tech-wise consumers are forcing the drinks trade to become more social media savvy.
Photo credit: Five Gems
A nationwide UK wine survey conducted by Accolade Wines and called the Wine Nation Report 2011 was recently published revealing that the younger consumer market, an average of 25 years old, are the fastest growing wine consumer sector. So it seems that the UK is headed in the same direction as the states. When I posted these recent findings on Twitter, members of the trade showed both interest and disbelief in these stats. I’m not sure why this should come as a surprise to anyone, and can only chalk it up to trepidation, owing to the fact that the trade, including-and perhaps especially-members of the wine media, are mainly middle-aged and above, and have for the most part overlooked this age group.
In my 5 short years in the wine trade, I’ve personally seen a rise in interest from younger consumers. I started to co-host the online radio show (aka podcast) The Crush in the spring–a program aimed at a younger, trendier wine crowd who are keen to learn about wine but in a way that makes it fun and accessible. To my surprise and delight, The Crush is already bringing in several thousand listeners a week. For the most part our listeners are in their 20s and 30s, use social media frequently, and happen to have an interest in all things vinous. What a wonderful thing, to have confirmed my long held suspicion that there were lots of people out there my age and younger who loved wine as much as I did and were just looking a platform like ours (and several others, particularly in the states) that reached out to them and not to their mothers! Businesses have long been aware of the power of social media, and I’m hoping that with these new stats, the wine trade will finally catch up properly, and take bigger steps forward than the baby kind.
So what’re the pros and cons of having younger consumers calling a good portion of the shots? Unlike in the USA and most other New World countries, the UK has a lot of hard-to-shake baggage attached to what brands, regions, and grape varieties are considered acceptable and unacceptable. 20-somethings tend to be much more open-minded when it comes to trying new styles of wine, after all, many weren’t even born when Blue Nun was in its heyday, systematically ruining the reputation of German riesling for decades to come. From my experience, when given the opportunity, younger drinkers are far more game to trying wines from lesser known wine-producing countries like Greece or Croatia for example, and they’re more in tune with environmental issues and therefore keen to learn more about organic and natural winemaking philosophies.
The con? A lighter wallet. In general 20-somethings are on a tighter budget than their older drinking counterparts. I once read somewhere that you know you’ve officially left your twenties behind when you buy your first wine rack…so perhaps this is not the market that the fine wine industry will be targeting. By being unable or unwilling to spend more, it makes it difficult to convince these bright-eyes and bushy tails to drink the higher quality stuff or to experiment much at all. It means that budget brands will make a killing, but it squeezes out the smaller, more boutique producers, or indeed any brand offering a higher level of quality beyond ‘entry’. This is where the members of the wine trade need to step up, to educate and most importantly include. Many young consumers have a thirst (pun intended) to learn about the drink that is so often at the centre of their social lives. And it goes without saying that the more they learn, the more informed their buying decisions will be. However, they need more industry figures to relate to them and to speak to them in a tone that makes them feel not like they are on the other side of the velvet rope, but rather like everyone is welcome at the party. And social media is where they will receive their invitation.