What We Really Think: Beer, Spirits and Wine

I’m writing this to you from sunny Florida and I couldn’t be happier. It’s spring break! The time for experiencing new cultures, soaking up the sun and…drinking.

Today, I’m writing about what current market research states about twentysomething drinking habits compared to what our habits actually are. First up, do millennials prefer beer, spirits or wine?

Here are the hard numbers of this Harris poll, surveyed in March of 2011, depicting what drinkers ages 21-34 prefer:

Beer: 37%

Spirits: 35%

Wine: 24%

Other: 4%

Even though beer and spirits compete for the top spot, the real surprise here is the high preference for wine.

Take GenXers (ages 35-46). For them, it’s no contest. Beer dominates at 41%, spirits remain similar at 37%, while wine is only 20%.  What do market researchers attribute the differences in millennial and GenX tastes to?

John Greening, professor at Medill Graduate School of Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University, boils the phenomena down to a simple sentence: “Drink what your parents don’t drink,”  he explains in this AdAge article.  He argues that Baby Boomers (ages 47-65) preferred wine and spirits, which caused their GenX children to pick up beer consumption. Now, he theorizes that the pendeulum is swinging the other direction for millennials.

I don’t think it’s that simple. Based on my experiences as a twentysomething, I’d argue that millennials are trying to be more like their parents by drinking more wine and less beer than their predecessors.

Twentysomethings feel enormous pressure to grow up at this stage in life. For many of us, it’s our first time paying taxes, renting apartments and having a full-time real job. In a previous post on something I call “the hostess effect”, I write about how this pressure causes more twentysomethings to host dinner parties and show off new-found adult abilities.

“Look, I have a crepe pan! I’m obviously very grown up.”

We’re new adults facing unfamiliar responsibilities–so we act how we think adults are supposed to act. We’re looking for someone to show us how to do it. For many of us, that’s our parents. That could mean either GenXers (ages 35-46) or Baby Boomers (47-65).  Enter the wine connection.

Cheap beer and spirits are the drinks of frat parties and dorm rooms. Once millennials exit that collegiate stage of life and reach the age where we can buy alcohol for ourselves, the pressure is on to buy “good” alcohol focused on taste and quality rather than just a vehicle for achieving drunkenness. Yes, we will drink cheap beer at nightclubs or to play drinking games. But, at home, dinners or pubs, more mature alcohol focused on taste, like wine, dominates.

And the wine industry notices. The Wine Market Council states that, “The millennial generation offers the wine industry the kind of growth potential not seen in more than 30 years”. What happened 30 years ago to cause the boom? A high Baby Boomer demand during their twenties and thirties. Oddly enough, Baby Boomer and millennial wine demand have a lot in common.

Just look at the numbers. Millennials have a 24% wine preference, GenXers only 16% and Baby Boomers have 28%. Twentysomethings and Baby Boomers wine habits are much more similar, and both consume less beer than GenXers (Baby Boomers only have 33% preference for beer)

Alcohol preferences may skip a generation, but it’s emulation, not rebellion, that’s the culprit. In our desire to appear more “grown-up”, millennials have skipped GenXers and inadvertently mirrored the wine preferences of Baby Boomers.
Maybe millennials drink wine, but what’s the deal with the current favorite, beer? Stay tuned for a quick analysis of twentysomething beer habits and a profile of one brand doing it right.

Now I’m off to the beach. Thanks for reading! Lindsey Kirchoff

One thought on “What We Really Think: Beer, Spirits and Wine

  1. [...] beers. That can include other alcohols–I’ve written about how this generation is a huge opportunity for the wine industry. But we do like beer  and I don’t think that will change. In fact, I’ve reported on [...]

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