The Millennial Minefield: familiarity breeds content

With the market for wine becoming increasingly competitive, why are many millennials turning away from Old World wines and choosing to buy New World instead?

When I asked my peers, the majority said they believed that France produced the world’s best wines and that, in a restaurant setting, they would be happiest to be served a bottle of French or Italian wine. But when I asked what wines they would typically buy in a supermarket almost all pointed towards the New World. 

Many factors can alter purchasing behaviour. Price, shelving height, display and bottle design all play an important role. However, the most critical factor, and the one that results in the decision to purchase, is whether consumers can understand what they are buying.

The likes of France, Spain and Italy can benefit if the young adult has a history of drinking wines from these countries. If they have grown up seeing their parents or families enjoying wine from widely available appellations such as Rioja or Bordeaux, then it is far more likely they will recognise a word on the label and feel more comfortable and familiar with those wines. However, for the majority of millennials who may not have paid such close attention, they are far more comfortable selecting a wine they can at least understand. This may be the name of an area or country, a grape variety or even a description, such as juicy” or fresh”. Blossom Hill’s highly successful technique is to explain in two to three words what the wine will taste like, and it works for young adults who know nothing about wine. While this technique could be used in Old World regions, it is far more commonly seen in the New World countries and it immediately makes the wine seem more familiar. 

Another important factor is being able to recognise or at least see the grape variety. Again, it’s much more common for New World areas to promote the grape variety on the front of the bottle in large, easy-to-read fonts and formats. Once a millennial is comfortable with a certain variety they will continue experimenting within this category, moving around countries but nearly always selecting the same grape. When standing in a supermarket they don’t have the time or energy to search for something on the back label. 

It is equally important that the grape or name of the wine is easy to say. Millennials who have little wine knowledge or confidence will select a bottle with words they can pronounce. This is one of the reasons Merlot, Malbec and Chardonnay are so popular with young adults, while Gewürztraminer and Viognier have not had the same success, even though these fruity varieties may suit younger drinkers’ palates. The same pattern can be seen in New and Old World regions. It is much easier to pronounce Marlborough or Napa Valley than it is to say Rheinhessen or Friuli-Venezia Giulia.

While these appellation names cannot be changed, it is possible to make them more approachable for a younger, less confident wine drinker. Many Old World regions are now beginning to understand the importance of making lower-priced wines approachable to all generations. Small changes such as adding the grape variety to the front of the bottle and adding easy-to-understand descriptors on both the front and back can greatly increase a consumers’ familiarity and therefore alter their purchasing behaviour. 

There is nothing to stop the Old World competing with the New for millennial market share as long as it is willing to move with the times.

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