Sheri Hebbeln
May 19, 2008 | Email Marketing , Wine Industry Trends | Sheri Hebbeln

The Next Great Generation

On Friday the wine industry lost an American icon. Robert Mondavi is largely credited with putting California wines on the world’s radar screen as he worked tirelessly to educate a generation of Baby Boomers about the benefits of wine as part of a healthy lifestyle. He believed in the marriage of food and wine and traveled extensively to feed his quest for knowledge on the subject. “Wine to me is passion. It’s family and friends. It’s warmth of heart and generosity of spirit” he wrote in “Harvests of Joy: How the Good Life Became Great Business.”

And that message found its way not only to the Baby Boomer and Gen X generations, but I think it continues to resonate with Millennials – today’s 21 to 30 year olds. According to Nielsen Research, Millennials, also known as “The Next Great Generation,” are approaching Baby Boomers in sheer numbers (70 million compared to the 77 million Baby Boomers) and they outnumber Gen X’ers by nearly 25 million. What I found interesting about the Nielsen Research study, which was published in November of 2007, is that this group perceives wine to be “relaxing” and “sophisticated”, opting for wine over other alcoholic beverages for more formal nights out.

Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that, probably largely due to the influence Robert Mondavi had on previous generations, this is the first generation in US history to have grown up with wine at the family dinner table. And the resulting shift in preferences is evident in the numbers: ten years ago beer accounted for 59% of this age group’s purchases in the alcoholic beverage category. Today that number is twelve percentage points lower, while wine and spirits have increased in relative proportion.

As they are just now shaping their tastes, Millennials represent an enormous opportunity for wineries.

The tasting room:
Remember that this group is just beginning to form opinions and that those opinions will be largely based on experience, experiences they are very likely to share with like-minded peers. The tasting room is a perfect opportunity to begin building long-term relationships with the next generation by creating memorable visits through friendly conversation and enthusiastic sharing of knowledge. And don’t forget to capture email addresses – Millennials are a “connected” group, far more so than any generation before them.

This is the generation of social media, and while it may be difficult to justify venturing into social networking simply because it doesn’t lend itself easily to results that are “measurable”, social media can be a great opportunity for branding and for engaging a whole new generation of wine consumers. It may be a longer term endeavor, but it will ultimately translate into sales, and more importantly, into longer term relationships.

As a whole, the 21 to 30 age group is unpretentious and hungry for knowledge, knowledge that they’re much more likely to seek out via Internet search and social networks than through wine books or ratings. This is our opportunity to pay it forward and continue the education that Robert Mondavi started.


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