Millennials, Wine and Storytelling: What Does it Mean for Brands?

Posted by: Olivia Ledbetter

This article was originally posted to Barkley’s Free Knowledge blog on July 25, 2017. 

You can see it everywhere, from frequent #WineWednesday posts to the continuation of wine bars popping up in cities around the country: Millennials love wine. The industry is changing quickly, and with Millennials drinking a whopping 42 percent of all wine sold in the U.S. last year, it makes sense that they’re leaving a mark on the category. With younger consumers driving sales in such a prominent way, it’s clear that they have a different drive for the beverage than generations past. What’s behind their desire to rosé all day? The desire for brand products with stories to tell.

Everything from a unique label to the vineyard history feeds into a wine’s story. While a pretty label has always helped drinkers differentiate between bottles, Millennials are now causing these details to take center stage. Josh Phelps, co-owner of Taken Wine Co., explains that “having a credible story is super important to Millennials.” While a compelling story will not replace the need for a quality product, it can help consumers choose between two similar options.

While vineyard and grape histories are compelling storytelling avenues for individual wineries, a larger narrative is shaping the entire category and causing Millennials to choose wine over other alcoholic offerings: Wine is now an offering that fits every occasion from black tie to backyard barbecues, no longer exclusive to retirees or expensive dinners.

Millennials have grown to love wine for all the same reasons their parents and grandparents do, including the complexity of flavors and range of varieties. Young drinkers love the taste, but for years, wine has been seen as somewhat pretentious and unapproachable. The movie scenes of gentlemen sloshing around their wine glass and sniffing at its aroma are not far off from the real life picture. Intimidated by the sheer amount of offerings and implied expertise that is required, previous generations have tended to reach for a pint instead of a Pinot Noir until they felt knowledgeable enough at a matured life stage.

The push to make wine more appealing to Millennials started as brands realized that the bulk of regular wine drinkers were reaching their senior years. With Millennials overtaking Baby Boomers in population size, wine brands saw an opportunity to capture the loyalty of a younger generation. Realizing that wine could easily be misunderstood to be a special occasions-only drink, brands made a concentrated effort to cater to the more casual and social lifestyles of younger drinkers. An example of a successful effort to make wine more approachable? The surprising popularity of canned wine.

Crack Open a Cold… Chardonnay?

Part of canned wine’s appeal is practical, as it does away with the need for corkscrews and glasses to allow for greater flexibility. Among a generation that values experiences over possessions, a drink that can be thrown in a cooler and taken anywhere will logistically hold more appeal than one that requires fancy glasses and a buttoned-up environment. Yet, a larger part of its appeal is the subtle story a canned drink tells. Cans represent the epitome of a laid-back  beverage, and removing the physical fuss also removes some of the cultural intimidation connected to wine. This relaxed narrative is not an accident, as the trend started with one winemaker realizing the need to redefine wine as a “pinkies down” drink. The can idea stuck, with everyone from small distributors to major retailers jumping on board.

The Millennial market has latched onto the idea of canned wine, and the sales are showing it. Doug Bell, head buyer for Whole Foods, has noted that while canned wines still make up just a small segment, that segment has grown 1000 percent. Why have Millennials latched onto the idea of unfussying wine instead of just reaching for a cold beer?

Much of the appeal is because wine is seen as a fun and social drink. Millennials desire authenticity and connection, and wine feels like the perfect pairing for casual get-togethers. Additionally, wine is not just a drink but an experience as drinkers can dive into complexities of flavor and food pairings. The beer category has been conquered by Gen Xers already and owns an established space and need in the market, while wine still feels fresh and undiscovered by younger consumers for their various social engagements.

Overall, the story of a formerly unapproachable drink becoming more welcoming and authentic hits three major Millennial desires: experience, exploration and authenticity.

A Trend That Isn’t Bottled Up

The popularity of canned wine may end up being a passing fad, but the values behind it are here to stay. Millennials care about authenticity, and the industry’s movement to change the story behind wine to make it more approachable can be translated to other categories. When brands understand that every detail, from the product itself to the packaging, feeds into the overall feeling and narrative of what they stand for, marketers can better position products to be in line with consumer desires. The popularity of canned wine isn’t actually about the can – it’s about hearing Millennial desires to reinvent formerly stuffy industries into more approachable and authentic offerings.

So, will putting your product in a can automatically tell a compelling story? Of course not. Instead, figure out what your industry should be saying, and experiment with telling it in a new way. That’s the way to uncork your brand’s story.

About Olivia Ledbetter

As the 2017 Editorial Intern for Barkley, Olivia understands that great thinking needs a groundwork of solid strategy before it can become truly visionary. Her background in copywriting and creative writing has cultivated her belief...See Olivia's full bio.