“I like wine in the shower….. I like to take a bottle of wine to share with friends when we go hiking…. I drink wine while reading my books to relax……When is there an occasion to not drink wine? If I could find a wine that went well with my Cheerio's in the morning then I would even have it for breakfast!”
These are just a few quotes from Millennials describing new occasions to drink wine. As Millennials have been credited with driving much of the wine consumption growth in the US over the past several years, it is useful for wine marketers to examine the types of occasions in which this generation drinks wine. Therefore a study of 467 Millennials was launched by the Wine Business Institute at Sonoma State University. The results support a recent finding from Wine Opinions showing that nearly 60% of US consumers now drink wine without meals.
The Importance of Wine Occasion
From a wine marketing perspective, “wine occasion,” can be defined as the place and time in which the wine is consumed. Historically, the literature suggests that the main occasions for wine were as a beverage with meals and for religious reasons. Though still used for both of these purposes today, there is less emphasis on the religious component and more on wine in other contexts. Indeed some researchers have found that segmenting by occasion is more relevant for wine positioning and promotion that demographic based segmentation.
Common Wine Occasions
There are a variety of wine occasions in the research literature, so for the purposes of this study, the 6 most common occasions were used (with meals at home, formal restaurant, casual restaurant, and without meals for special occasions, to relax after work, and at a bar). In addition, 9 other occasions which had been cited in previous Millennial research were added (see Figure 1). The 467 Millennials (64 % female; 36% male; 90% from California; 56% core and 44% marginal drinkers) completed an online survey asking them to rate how often they consumed wine in the 15 occasions.
Figure 1: Frequency of Millennial Wine Consumption by Occasion
1 = never; 2 = Rarely; 3= Sometimes; 4 = Often; 5 = Almost Always
The results (Figure 1) show that the two most common situations are Special Occasions and Meals at Formal Restaurants. These are considered traditional wine consuming occasions for all generations and do not reflect any specific differences for Millennials. However, from here the data change with Meals at Friend’s House and Socializing with Friends coming in at third and fourth. These reflect Millennial values of collaboration and work/life balance. It also illustrates that Millennials view wine as more of a social lubricant than perhaps previous generations, and this may be part of the reason they are consuming wine in increased quantity. Another higher scoring occasion, Wine While Cooking, may reflect the increased number of TV cooking shows which have been linked to the growth of wine in the US. The fact that drinking wine At a Bar scored lower may have to do with Millennials reporting, in interviews, that wine at bars is too expensive.
New Occasions Identified by Millennials
The survey included an open-ended question asking Millennials to type in other occasions in which they consume wine. A total of 192 occasions were listed, including the 4 situations described in the quotes in the first paragraph of this article. When analyzed using a thematic coding process, 9 new occasion categories were identified. Table 1 lists these in order of frequency mentioned, with Wine Tastings scoring highest. This is most likely because many California Millennials often plan a wine tasting event or outing as a form of entertainment and a way to socialize. The second highest identified theme was Family Get Togethers, which supports the premise that many Millennials were introduced to wine by their parents. What is especially interesting about these occasions is they do NOT center on meals, but instead are primarily social settings to drink wine.
Table 1: New Occasions Identified By Millennials
• Wine Tastings
• Family Get Togethers
• Special Events (graduation, weddings, etc.)
• Friend’s Night
• Theme Nights (movies, games, etc.)
• Wine Education (class, seminar, etc.)
• Date Nights/Romance
• On Vacation
Preferred Style of Wine By Occasion Category
Millennials were also asked to identify their preferred style of wine in meal and non-meal occasions. Figure 2 illustrates the results by frequency, and highlights the fact the sparkling wine and/or Champagne is used frequently by Millennials in non-meal occasions. It also shows the preference for dry red wines in both situations. The types of wine least consumed in both meal and non-meal occasions are dessert wine and wine mixed as a cocktail. Interestingly sweet white (semi-dry riesling, muscat, etc.) and sweeter reds (fruity malbec, zinfandel, etc.) scored higher in non-meal occasions, perhaps explaining some of the rise in popularity of these varietals. If they are consumed without food, then a fruitier, slightly sweeter style is more approachable.
Figure 2: Millennial Preferred Wine Type by Meal and Non-Meal Occasions (Frequency)
Implications for Wine Marketers
In summary this study provides some useful tips for wine marketers. Since the two highest scoring wine situations for Millennials are Special Occasions and with Meals at a Formal Restaurant – the same as previous generations – this suggests that it is still possible to reach multiple generation segments with the same or similar promotions and advertising.
At the same time, the study highlights the fact that Millennials see wine as a beverage to enhance social occasions, such as Meals at Friend’s House and Socializing with Friends. Furthermore, Millennials have expanded the number and types of wine drinking occasions by adding Wine Tastings, Family Get Togethers, Friends Night, Theme Nights and other social situations. These types of occasions are less formal, and show wine holding a more integral part in the American culture than previously recognized. It is possible that through Millennials wine is becoming more a part of everyday life in the US. This is a new aspect that wine marketers can emphasize in advertising and promotions, as well as encourage via social networking media on the Internet. Furthermore, by linking into these motivations of socialization, relaxation, and fun regarding wine, marketers will be able to relate better to Millennial desires.
About the Author: Dr. Liz Thach, MW is the Korbel Professor of Wine Business & Management at Sonoma State University in the Wine Business Institute. For additional information, or a complete copy of the study which was recently published in the Proceedings of the 6th Academy of Wine Business Research Conference in Bordeaux, France, please contact her at Lizthach@aol.com.