Evan Goldstein: Can Chains Get Millennials to Drink More Wine?

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How do you manage against a population who doesn’t want to be managed? Millennial consumers are vehement about not being branded, rejecting the status quo on principal, and proving elusive when being marketed to traditionally. Those characteristics present a major concern for chain operators in particular as they are increasingly finding themselves managing against stagnant or dwindling traffic.

At the 2017 VIBE Conference in San Diego, Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein of Full Circle Wine Solutions will lead a panel of operators entitled "Tell Me What You Want, What You Really, Really Want" to examine current issues and solutions the fickle Millennial customers present.

VIBE: What’s the backdrop to your panel, which includes some of the leading chain wine operations?

Evan Goldstein: The fact of the matter is there are more of the Millennials now than any other drinking segment. They are bigger and more important than the Baby Boomers who have been setting the tone for so many years. This is a very interesting demographic for chain operators, and wine in many ways has been having a harder time than beer, for example. The whole profile of craft beer in chains has evolved much more smoothly than wines have. Even craft cocktails have an easier time working their way into chain restaurants than the sorts of wines that Millennials are proving to want.

My feeling is that the restaurant business as a whole is in a dramatic evolution right now with the chain market attacked by the broad variety of options available at more moderate price points for consumers today.

VIBE: What are the key points to know about Millennials and wine?

Goldstein: What’s interesting is that with the exceptions of a handful of the older generations, Millennials grew up as the first legitimate generation of US wine drinkers as opposed to older generations who grew up without wine being consumed at home. They were, and that has transformed their DNA, making them predisposed toward wine. They also don’t have much baggage about wine. When we were younger there were fairly standard paradigms that wine drinkers ascribed to: Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne and Napa Valley Cabernet, and if you drank outside that realm, you might not be considered a sophisticated wine drinker.

Millennials, on the other hand, are extraordinarily open minded and discovery-focused, and are really looking for the new, the quality, the experience, all of the lovely imbedded promiscuity that comes from being an engaged wine drinker.

VIBE: So, how does a chain reach them?

Goldstein: The most important thing an operator can think of today is how do you talk to them and engage them, and what are the best ways to do so? Millennials are keenly aware of being branded. A Gallup survey said they were the least engaged generation of customers of any group of consumers, and that’s something chain operators need to be aware of, not only because that might keep them out of certain chains, but if they are adventure seekers and are presented with a fairly pedestrian list of wines – most of which you can find at grocery stores – that’s not the kind of thing they’ll find engaging. They care about diversity and bold flavors, and where the product comes from.

VIBE: Chains face a major issue in offering many of the sorts of wines that are said to appeal to Millennials – namely, the new, unusual and obscure – because of national supply issues, yes?

Goldstein: It’s a large piece of the problem; many of these wines aren’t widely available, or don’t have national distribution. It’s easier on a regional chain basis in many cases. For some wines, it’s simply a matter of supply. Historically, a lot of chains would be relatively gun shy to take wines with a more limited supply; they don’t want to be bothered by finding out three months into a program that the wine is no longer available.

VIBE: Are there some areas of wine service that really work well with Millennials?

Goldstein: By-the-glass programs account for the lion’s share of wine sales, and what I’ve seen (at least anecdotally), it is more so the case with Millennials, so perhaps expanding that by introducing things like the multi-course prix fixe with wine added, whether formalized with specific wines or a more “gun-slinging” approach by pouring wine for them from a limited number of selections opened that evening. Draft wine is absolutely interesting to them. It’s not a novelty anymore – it’s getting much more accessible and accepted. People understand the quality, the freshness, the greenness, and the lack of waste, and there are increasingly diversified selections available. That fits in with many of the things they say matter to them.

Be sure to register now for the 2017 VIBE Conference in San Diego to attend this panel presentation.

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