The over-45 age group now accounts for more than three-quarters of BWS sales in the UK as younger adults increasingly turn their backs on alcohol. Kantar stats for the year to March show that 76.5% of volume sales go to the 45-plus demographic, with just 23.5% bought by younger adults. In the past year volume sales among 18 to 44-year-olds declined by 7.5%, while volume sales among the older generations grew 2.9%. 

This trend presents the drinks industry with a stern challenge as it bids to safeguard its future health, and the picture is even starker for the wine trade. In wine, 82.4% of sales go to the 45-plus group, leaving just 17.6% for the under-45s, who are increasingly moderating their behaviour and turning to gin and beer when they do drink. Midweek drinking is becoming far less prevalent in general, especially among younger adults, and the buzz around moderation is growing.

Concha y Toro, which supplies leading brands Casillero del Diablo, Trivento and Cono Sur, has conducted shopper research to identify the key drivers of volume decline in the wine category. “One in three adults claim to be moderating their alcohol consumption, 37%, but I must stress this is claimed behaviour, so whether or not it actually comes to fruition is another thing,” says category and insights controller Alex Haughton. “But whether or not it actually happens, there’s an intent there. They are thinking about it, and things like Go Sober for October and Dry January, these campaigns about drinking less alcohol or stopping alcohol for a month really are top of people’s minds now. We see slightly higher rates of moderation with younger shoppers. With the 25 to 34-year-olds, for example, 42% are claiming to moderate their behaviour. When you think about this ageing population and who’s coming through, these are the ones that are the long-term health of the category, but they are moderating their behaviour.

“They are cutting down on their occasions, but they are also having fewer drinks, switching to soft drinks and drinks with lower-alcohol and no-alcohol alternatives. Half of consumers tell us it’s because of health. They are conscious of things such as gaining weight or cancer, and they are concerned about becoming dependent on alcohol. There has been a lot of communication in the media around alcohol dependency, particularly with the changing NHS guidelines around drinking. It’s more top of mind. 

“A third of people tell us they are drinking less because of social norms having changed. If you think about what’s happened over the past 20-30 years, particularly around drink-driving, people are far more socially aware of it, and the clampdown from police has really stamped it out. Another thing is around social media. When I was at university, you could go out, have a night out, the photos would be edited, cut, before they were put on social media. Now everything happens live, there are live streams straight to Facebook, Instagram, whatever it is, and it’s pretty much happening in the moment. There’s a thing around your social brand, yourself, that you are just a bit more conscious around how you are portraying yourself, particularly on those platforms.”

Spirits is the best-performing drinks category in the off-trade, and its growth is driven by gin, rum, flavoured vodka and malt whisky. Craft beer is also thriving, as are premium ale and premium lager, while RTDs are soaring, thanks to canned spirit and mixer drinks rather than alcopops. 

Challenging trends

“Eighty-six per cent of consumers at an occasion who did drink alcohol, but didn’t choose wine, said they did consider wine, but it just wasn’t right for them at that occasion,” says Haughton. “If we can understand why they considered wine, but then didn’t choose wine, there’s an opportunity to address that and bring more consumers in on more occasions. 

“We have a frequency of purchase challenge and a penetration challenge. If we look at the volume performance of the under-45s, we have 7.5% decline in volume for the under-45s. The ageing population is helping to grow volume. The younger generation is really the challenge. Penetration falls in the under-45s. We are starting from a smaller base, and it’s declining, so we’ve really got a job to do in engaging these younger shoppers. We have an ageing population and it’s great that they are buying more wine, but these [younger] guys are the future health of the category and we need to make sure we are engaging them earlier and bringing them into the wine category earlier to sustain the sort of growth that we want to see.”

Wine remains the largest off-trade category, with just under 43% share of the BWS market, but volume is slightly down. “We know we have volume challenges, worth £100 million in lost sales to the category over the past year, and we are seeing switching to other BWS categories, mainly gin,” says Haughton. “If we can understand why they are drinking other alcohol, gin or Prosecco, what needs wine isn’t meeting on those occasions, we can really drive frequency of purchase and become more relevant on more occasions.

“There are the three category challenges we have. How do we become more relevant at more occasions and stop people switching to gin? This is around a frequency of purchase challenge, with light and medium shoppers, and this is where we believe there’s a job to do in making sure there’s a wine for every occasion. 

“How do we engage the under-45s with the wine category and address the under-trade versus alcohol? We already under-trade with this group of shoppers, and the penetration is declining. We need to create some category excitement to engage them early. 

“How do we continue to encourage consumers to trade up with confidence and recognise the value of a bottle of wine outside of price? Really this is a value job to do, and it’s about creating an engaged choice.

“We are seeing some trade up within the wine category, and it’s interesting that 41% of consumers believe that wine is worth paying more for. That’s the highest percentage we see across any of the BWS categories. There’s already a willingness from the consumer to trade up within wine. But there’s perhaps still a bit of risk in doing so. 

“It’s not as easy to navigate wine as some other categories. But we are already seeing 42% of value growth being driven by shopper trade up, so we need to continue to encourage this behaviour. How do we make it easier for consumers to trade up in the wine category, to navigate that fixture, to understand why one bottle of wine is £12 and another one is £6? We need to continue to build confidence and encourage more consumers to trade up without fear.”