Following last year's Gallup poll that concluded that wine has eclipsed beer as Americans' favorite alcoholic beverage and an Impact Databank study that showed that wine consumption in the U.S. has reached record levels, the Wine Market Council has released a new study that also found that more American adults than ever are drinking wine. The survey of 1,398 people discovered that the number of wine drinkers with an annual income of $35,000 or more increased 31 percent from 2000 to 2005, while the number of adults who drink beer and/or spirits, but not wine, declined 25 percent.
"It seems clear that there are two things fueling the consumer base of the market," said John Gillespie, president of the Wine Market Council, a trade organization that encompasses winegrowers, producers, importers, wholesalers, retailers and others. "One is younger generations drinking more wine, more frequently, at an earlier stage of adulthood. And two, a good number of people who have been beer or spirits consumers now adding wine to their range of alcoholic-beverage choices."
Part of the reason for this may have to do with health, Gillespie suggested. Older consumers who may not have been wine drinkers in the past "are more influenced than the rest of the population by news on the relationship between wine and better health and longevity," he said.
But the rise of younger wine drinkers, referred to as Millennials because they reached legal drinking age around the year 2000 (and, at the oldest end of the range, turned 28 in 2005), is especially noteworthy. "We noted in our 2000 report that this was going to perhaps become a significant force in shaping the consumer market for wine in the U.S. in years to come," said Gillespie. "In the 2005 study, you can see the real impact of Millennial young adults entering the wine-consuming market at an early stage of adulthood. The two youngest segments of the market, Millennials and Generation X [ages 29 to 40], are increasing their consumption most rapidly and most decidedly."
Though Generation X shouldn't be discounted, the Millennials are much more influential in driving wine-consumption trends. The Generation X population is only about 44 million, while the Millennials number about 70 million. Furthermore, the report shows that Generation Xers didn't take to wine until they hit their 30s, though Millennials started drinking wine in their 20s.
What Millennials show is a preference for red wine. "Is part of that the fact that Yellow Tail is driving a lot of consumption among Millennials? Yes, but it also shows a mindset that they are very much open to the whole world of wine," explained Gillespie. In fact, younger wine drinkers prefer imported wine by a large margin over older consumers. Thirty-seven percent of wine consumed by Millennials is imported, while baby boomers only reach for non-American wine 25 percent of the time.
The Millennial group is also predominantly male, unlike every other segment of the U.S. wine-drinking population. "It's quite a dramatic shift, because previously 60 percent of consumers who drank wine were women. But in the 21 to 29 group, it was about 60 percent male. There's an interesting dynamic going on there," said Leslie Joseph, vice president of consumer affairs and consumer research for Constellation Wines U.S. and a member of the research committee for the Wine Market Council.
"We've already turned our attention to that consumer group," Joseph added, because of previous studies such as Constellation's Project Genome. "The Millennial consumer is drinking red wine in the same proportion as the older generation. They're just going to jump right into the fuller-bodied red wines." Consistent with that trend, in recent months Constellation has introduced brands such as Four Emus and Knife & Fork, both produced in Australia.
The 2006 study is part of a regular series performed by the Wine Market Council; the previous study was issued in 2003. From now on, though, instead of issuing reports every few years, the Wine Market Council will conduct surveys and release results every year to better help its members market wine to U.S. consumers.
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