Next Gen Shall Be Served
Next Gen Z’ers, millennials transform merchant realities & practices
Raised with cellphones and video games, too busy to visit the mall, and averse to buying the same brands their parents drink, Gen Z’ers and Millennials are challenging merchants to up their game and rethink how best to profit from these digital-savvy customers.
“Younger customers come into our stores and check this or that brand on their smart phone,” says Vince Trunzo, co-owner of Affiliated Consulting, which oversees marketing for a co-op of 350 Armanetti, Cardinal and Miska wine and liquor stores in Illinois. He adds, “They want a discovery wine or spirit they can tell their friends about—and post, too.”
Simply put, we are entering a new demographic reality. Millennials—those born in the early 1980s—and Gen Z’ers— still younger consumers born in the mid-1990s—today comprise the biggest group of consumers in the U.S., having overtaken aging Baby Boomers in sheer numbers: Gen Z’ers and Millennials total more than 75-to-100 million consumers, according to research reported by the Wine Market Council.
These legal-drinking-age (LDA) consumers pose a host of challenges and opportunities to independent on- and off-premise operators. Do you need to be a social media expert? What do they really like to drink? Which brands appeal to them? And where can an operator turn to for help?
David Jabour, President of Twin Liquors, an 80+-store group in Texas, observes, “Gen Z’ers and Millennials are not brand loyal compared to Baby Boomers and older customers. It’s difficult if you are a brand owner, because Gen Z and Millennials want to experiment.” On the other hand, while not necessarily loyal, these consumers are still attracted to brands. “We focus on national brands, not private labels, in all our stores,” adds Jabour. “A brand with a story is critical. Younger consumers like authenticity.”
“Younger consumers coming out of college are experimenting with all sorts of spirits and wines,” says David Churchill, owner of Churchill’s Wine & Spirits in Bridgehampton, NY. But he, too, sees some brands being warmly embraced: “Vodka is a blank canvas, and Tito’s is on fire, as it’s so easy to mix. Reds like Josh or Joel Gott, priced between $15-$20 are also popular with younger customers, as are the 3-liter Bota Box varietals like Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.”
Some retailers report success going the opposite direction from recognizable brands. In Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for Chris Bordeaux, Manager of Uva Wines & Spirits, it’s all about small producers, whether it is natural wines or local spirits. Echoing the famous quote from Field of Dreams, Bordeaux asserts: “If you carry natural wines, they will come.” Bordeaux says his younger customers are especially enthusiastic about so-called “orange” wines—made when white grapes are given extended maceration and skin contact, ranging in price from $14-$90, including Cantina Giardino for $30 a bottle. Bordeaux also sells a great deal of natural wine, with such wines’ minimal intervention providing extra appeal. It’s predominantly local in terms of spirits brands at Uva. Says Truzo of the Armanetti, Cardinal and Miska store group, “We see Millennials drinking more and more premium spirits and wines, so in all our social media communications we make sure that we call attention to premium discovery wines and spirits.”
Value in the Well
As if Millennials and Gen Z’ers were not chameleonic enough in terms of brand-buying attitudes, it seems that on-premise these consumers are even apt to adjust their stripes over the course of an evening. Raymond C. “RC” Faigle, owner of the Orange Crate bar in Syracuse, NY, whose clientele is anchored by nearby Syracuse University, says, “Our customers, 50/50 men and women, may start off ordering Tito’s, Grey Goose, Bacardi or Patron at about $7-$9.50, but move later in the evening to our well brands, which are priced lower at $4.50 or $5.”
George Seibel, owner of the Dark Horse Tavern in Cortland, NY, home to the Cortland State University of New York (SUNY Cortland), says he works closely with his son, Vincent, who is the establishment’s manager, to make sure selection and pricing are correct and appealing to his collegiate customers. Says Vincent Seibel, “From 21-22, it’s all about beer from Bud Light at $4-$10 a pitcher; in spirits, it’s flavored vodka, a well brand with cranberry, popular with both men and women, sells for $4.50 and Tito’s for $5.50 or $6, or Jim Beam Red Stag Black Cherry for $4.50 or $5, which is popular with both women and men.”
Summing up, “It’s all about pricing, it’s all about well brands,” says Amber Hubbard, Bacardi On-Premise Sales Manager, Western New York, Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits. At the same time, Hubbard adds, “Gen Z’ers and Millennials are increasingly gravitating to classic, premium pours like Bacardi, Patrón and Heaven Hill, so the opportunity for operators to upsell is always there.”
10 TIPS FOR INDEPENDENT MERCHANTS & OWNERS
- Leave Your Comfort Zone – Bring In New Spirits/Wines
- Feature Brands With An Authentic Story and Heritage
- Go Local: Search Out Home-grown Wines and Spirits
- Add New Categories – Natural Wines, Obscure Varietals
- Be Sensitive to Pricing – Be Fair, Affordable & Offer Value
- Host Tastings of Your Newest Discovery Wines & Spirits
- Reach Out and Tie In with Slow Food & Culinary Groups
- Feature The Classics – What Goes Around, Comes Around!
- Ask Your Youngest Employees For Ideas – In-Store to Online
- Go Beyond Facebook/Twitter: Try Instagram, Pintrest
Note: The author would like to thank the Editors of Beverage Media Magazine for permission to post this story. David Lincoln Ross