Happy Winoversary to us! First Vine officially started selling wine 10 years ago, almost to the day. Our first shipment arrived on May 14, 2007. Seven wines from four producers, all in the southern Rhône valley. I wrote a post on our fifth anniversary detailing all the issues we encountered getting started, and I’m not going to repeat myself. At least not too much, anyway. But I think 10 years is a good point for reflection. Both on how things have changed, and how they haven’t.
So, over the next few months I’m going to do just that, one or two subjects at a time. The first is about customer demographics.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve had more first-time millennial customers than I did when I started the business. It shouldn’t be surprising to me, since news reports say that as of January 2016, millennials drink more wine than any other generation. While they’re not in the lead among high-frequency wine drinkers – that’s still the baby boomers — they do consume the largest share of the current wine marketplace in terms of volume.
But I wouldn’t have predicted this would happen even five years ago. Admittedly, my limited experience with millennials in the marketplace wasn’t exactly definitive. It came mostly from sessions at wine conferences I attended from July 2011 through January 2015, too early to catch what appears to be a sea-change. Not much changed in millennially-based wine-thought during my conference-going years except that there was more and more alarm over the surge in craft beer sales and how that might be bad for wine sales. The beer industry, given its shorter lead time for production, certainly seemed better able to capture the social/commercial things that researchers said were of interest to millennial drinkers.
Well, millennials definitely drink craft beers. Evidently they’ve also cunningly sidestepped winerati panic. They drink a lot of wine and seek to educate themselves about it. What makes millennials different from my slightly older customers is that they’ll run through completely mixed cases of wine and I don’t see them ordering the same thing twice. Even if they tell me they really liked something, they’re probably not going to order it again. Whereas my customers who are just a few years older tend to settle in on favorites, ordering multiple bottles of them or even single-selection cases.
And once my millennial customers have run through their choices in our 70-plus selections, they’re done and they don’t order again. It’s not because they don’t like the wines, since they tell me they do. It’s probably because I only have a limited number of wines and they’re just from France, Spain, and Italy. The Fortune article I linked to above indicates that millennials spread their wine largesse across all the world’s wine-making countries/regions and don’t necessarily focus on just one or two. Even the built-in variety that new vintages bring rarely entices them back. And targeted discounts don’t really work, either.
A recent New York Times article on credit cards illustrates the divide in terms of American Express vs. Chase Sapphire cards. Amex is the ultimate concierge card, providing services that made the company’s reputation among previous generations. However, millennials don’t appear to need or want these services. The company is having a hard time attracting millennial-age customers, who are (at least for now) flocking to Chase. Chase claims to focus on experiences and less on the snobbery of owning things, and has tweaked its rewards system to give customers more of them more quickly. Although, as the author, Charles Duhigg, points out, there’s definite snobbery in “an Instagram post from [an] Iceland spelunking adventure or a lament about how hard it is to find a charging station near Burning Man for [an] electric sports car.” They’re still purchases, although not necessarily the sort of high-culture ones that their parents’ generation enjoyed.
Still, Duhigg’s likely exaggerated cynicism inadvertently gets at a real issue. For some (possibly many) millennials, sharing an experience via social media is an important part of having that experience. It stands to reason that you can’t keep sharing or posting the same thing over and over, so constantly new experiences are the way to go. It doesn’t have to go as far as “If it didn’t happen on Instagram it didn’t really happen” for this to be true, either.
Of course, the sheer availability of things compared to what previous generations could access is a big part of it, too. If it had even occurred to me that it was possible to have an Iceland spelunking adventure in my 20s, I’d have had to find a specialty travel agent to help me. Or find and read obscure travel guides, and spend months planning the trip.
My guess is that both of these factors come into play. For wine, it means new bottles as new experiences. Whether or not they get posted on social media. And as we’re all aware, it’s possible to get more and more wines and learn more and more of the stories behind them than ever before. Those of us who are older don’t necessarily avail ourselves of all those choices, partly because we didn’t necessarily have the same choices and habits when we were in our 20s and 30s.
Variety and experiences are the order of the day, at least for now. The question is whether they’ll keep going as people settle into careers, property, and parenthood. Wine certainly offers an ever-increasing variety of options, so it’s possible that millennials can keep it going, at least where drinking is concerned. Or they could decide that sticking to a reasonable number of favorites works for them. As a small importer, I’m hoping for a bit more of the latter, since I can’t bring in loads of new selections each year.
Still, I hope they don’t completely shed their interest in variety. And that goes for the rest of us, too. I know I definitely could benefit from being a little more adventurous!
No recipe with this post, but I’m trying a bunch of new things out and will have some great ones later this spring.