They drink wine more often, experiment with different brands, eat at upscale restaurants, and are attracted by '"fun" and "contemporary" wine labels. They're the consumer group known as The Millennials (or Generation Y), and they're on every marketer's hit list.
America's Wine Market Council is so keen to fathom the drinking habits of this key demographic that in its latest report on wine consumption, it divided them into two groups: younger (22 to 25) and older (26 to 34). Its research shows that 65 percent of the older group drink wine every day or several times a week, and consume more glasses at each sitting – up to 2.92 – than other age groups.
How, then, should wine producers respond – bearing in mind that in the United States alone, this target demographic comprises between 75 million and 100 million consumers, depending on how it's defined. In other words, they are the biggest consumer group in history.
L.A.-based Mutineer magazine, whose mission is "to share the modern fine beverage experience with the millennial generation," runs Millennial Wine Circus workshops specifically to help producers target this huge group. For president Alan Kropf, there's no doubting that this market segment is different from others.
"The size of the millennial demographic distinguishes it, as does the existence of digital media in the mainstream," he says. "Digital media has not only influenced the way Millennials receive information, it has revolutionized the way the wine industry communicates in general. Millennials are a revolutionary demographic for wine, and we've only seen the tip of the iceberg."
Australian-based global giant Treasury Wine Estates has decided that the future lies in establishing a male/female divide. Two years ago, it launched Sledgehammer wine (slogan: No Sipping. No Swirling.), complete with a website that asserts: "We make wine because we like drinking wine. Not because we want to talk about it. If you want a wine to swirl and sip while you analyze it, best move on and pick one with a foreign name and a picture of a chateau on the label."
There are two wines in the range: a Sledgehammer Zinfandel (described as "bold and complex"), and a Sledgehammer Cabernet ("so big and rich we had a hard time fitting it in the bottle"). If a consumer needs a primer on how the wines are made (no swirling, mind), the website contains a guide – so "you can drink them like the man you are."
According to Treasury Wine Estates' 2011 annual report, the Sledgehammer brand has done well, helping to drive a 6.4 percent volume growth in its emerging premium brands. Not surprisingly, then, the company has now turned its attention to "the increasingly influential wine demographic of millennial women." This year, it launched the "stylish, playful" Be. collection, with four different varietals: pink moscato, chardonnay, pinot grigio and riesling (it seems you can't be part of the "Be." team if you drink red wine.)
Leslie Walters, brand manager for Be., says the wines were developed after a great deal of consumer research.
"We found that older drinkers have wine when they are dining out on special occasions or for 'me' time, but millennial women want wine for casual social occasions as well – for relaxation and fun," she explains. In addition, "our research showed that wine can be intimidating or stuffy, especially for younger millennials, and we wanted a fun wine that is approachable."
The wines they've come up with "make it easy for women to choose an affordable wine that matches their mood – whether that's flirty, fresh, bright or radiant."
Be warned that you should only try the Flirty Pink Moscato if you're feeling a bit mischievous. It's described as being "full of rich berry and delicate floral notes sealed with a kiss of pink."
Feminist blog Jezebel commented: "It's enough to make you want to gag, in the most girly way possible, of course." But Walters insists that the Be. approach is in no way patronizing: "It's a brand that has an open mind, and with such a playful attitude women are empowered to be creative."
Other companies targeting millennial drinkers include a New Jersey-based importer, Vision Wine & Spirits, which launched the TXT Cellars brand in September last year. The TXT portfolio includes two German wines (WTF!!! Pinot Noir and LOL!!! Riesling), two from Italy (OMG!!! Chardonnay and LMAO!!! Pinot Grigio) and two from France (CYA!!! Shiraz and GR8!!! Cabernet Sauvignon).
Like Treasury with its Be. range, TXT Cellars maintains a "let's not discuss the details" approach. The total acidity listing for its pinot grigio, for example, proclaims, "This is wine geek talk. We don't like wine geeks."
Mark Tucker, director of marketing for Vision, explains that "we industry folks like to talk about things like soil composition, malolactic fermentation and residual sugar ... but the overwhelming majority of consumers shopping for wine either don't know about, think about or care about those things." Instead of providing information, TXT Cellars wants to "create a fun conversation."
This concept seems at odds with the Wine Market Council's finding that when deciding what to purchase, Millennials assign more importance to wine reviews than other age groups.
What does Mutineer's Kropf make of "keep it simple" marketing?
"I think fun is better than complicated; however, authenticity trumps both," he replies. "Consumers aren't stupid, they just have a limited attention span and a collective insecurity about wine brought on by a wine culture rooted in exclusivity. Producers need to find the authenticity of their vision and just stick with that, because it will lead them in the right direction."
With the number of wineries in the United States having more than quadrupled in the past 25 years to 7,000-plus, competition for buyers is fierce. As an example of a company that's getting it right, Kropf cites Jordan Winery, which recently won an award for Best Winery Wine Blog of the Year. "I think they do an outstanding job using digital media to tell their story," he says.
Among others, Kropf also mentions Wente ("great at integrating music and culture into their marketing"), Twisted Oak ("its rubber chicken is legendary in wine-blog culture"), and Judd's Hill ("some fantastic video content").
Not surprisingly, at the younger end of the millennial demographic, price is also a pivotal factor in choosing which wine to buy, with $10 being the cut-off. In an open letter to the wine industry, an intern at 1winedude.com, Shelby Vittek, recently wrote: "I would love your wine if I could afford to buy it." She confessed that while she loves drinking higher-end wines "that are older or more intriguing," she can't afford them.
"Maybe you think I’m crazy for expecting a ten-dollar bill to be traded for a beautifully perfumed wine that also delivers rich flavors," wrote Vittek. "But I assure you, I am not insane, and I am definitely not alone. Many other younger millennials are in the same boat as I am." And they don't want to drink "crap" peddled as entry-level wines.
No one pretends that it's an easy task to pin down this enormous target market. But Kropf may have the best observation of all. "There is a great deal of misinformation and misunderstanding regarding the millennial generation of wine consumers, over-complicating communication and marketing opportunities that are very simple at their core."