Millennial trends: play the generation game

By Nigel Huddleston

- Last updated on GMT

Millennial trends: play the generation game

Related tags Premium soft drinks Generation y

The millennial generation is socialising differently, but how can your venue tap into its needs? Nigel Huddleston finds out.

The recent revelation by the think-tank Demos, that one in five 16 to 24-year-olds do not drink alcohol, is a warning to licensees. The so-called millennials — aka Generation Y, defined according to which expert you listen to as anyone born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s — don’t necessarily conform to the stereotype of hard-drinking, pub-crawlers established by young people in decades past. 

That’s not to say that some of them don’t, but when we talk about Generation Y, we’re really talking about a spectrum rather than a type — with a multitude of different interests, tastes and habits. The shared ground is often as much about how those things are shaped through networks and media as their content.

The news about teetotal millennials shouldn’t be a rallying call for pubs to write off young consumers and concentrate on older ones — after all, four out of five millennials do still drink. But it’s a sign to licensees and pubcos that the ones who respond better to the rich diversity to be found within Generation Y will reap the rewards.

Here are a few clues to guide you on your way:

Yes, we are all different

The line was used Monty Python’s Life of Brian to satirise the banal sheep mentality of a crowd, but for the millennial generation it could be a genuine expression of individual taste in everything from fashion, music and film through to the pub staples of food and drink.

We know from the Demos survey, 20% of them are going to be more interested in your premium soft drinks range or the quality of your coffee than the other 80% are in your single malt whisky line-up, so pubs more than ever need to think outside the normal tramlines of beer, wine and spirit ranges.

The concept of the chameleon venue that runs from coffee and light bites in the day, through casual dining in the evening and into high-tempo drinks consumption at night is well-established, but arguably arrived a generation early. Its real time may only just have arrived.

Whatever you thought, it’s probably wrong

Take cider, for example. Many in the trade will have just got used to the idea that modern ciders with catwalk looks and clean, crisp tastes are all the rage. But things have moved on and the Magners generation of ciders are gradually being usurped by niche (for which, read ‘craft’), world and classic (for which, read ‘cloudy’, ‘vintage’ and ‘barmy’ labels) ciders, which are all on the up.

“The world cider segment is the fastest growing sub-category,” says Andrew Turner, category and trade marketing director at Heineken, following a trend that’s been brewing for years in beer. “Today’s drinkers are more widely travelled than previous generations and often recognise and appreciate beers from holidays or from social media channels,” he observes.

Yet in beer, things have already moved on and British craft beers are clearly setting the pace in the hipper echelons of Gen Y, with names such as Beavertown, Hardknott and Siren out-profiling bigger volume Continental brands. It’s sometimes hard to think that 20 years or so ago, British ale was an old-fashioned drink consumed in straight glasses by old blokes with beards.

Now, it’s on-trend and drunk from dimples, branded glasses, or even halves or thirds, by young men (with sightly tidier beards) and women.

Christopher Cooper, former wine buyer at Soho House Group and director of consultancy Drinkonomics, calls them the ‘taste generation’.

“They want to know what’s good to drink” he adds, “but they don’t find a need to get drunk like their parents did. They’ll buy one bottle of really nice beer or some craft beer but it has to be really good.

“A lot of traditional products like sparkling perry and mead are coming back into fashion — and locally grown fruit and vegetables to make juices and cocktails out of.

“There should be no limit to the creativity of drinks lists.”

The trend for diversity hasn’t been lost on some big producers, with the likes of Guinness entering the ale market and releasing a pair of porters. Katerina Podtserkovskaya, head of Guinness activation in the on-trade for Diageo, says: “They attract younger consumers than Guinness Draught — 65% of [porter] consumers hadn’t bought Guinness in the past 12 months.”

Keep ’em sweet

By which we mean the drinks as well as the consumers. While trends like craft gin, small-batch bourbon and microbrewed beer are all making their mark at the sophisticated end of the Gen Y spectrum, sweeter, fruit flavours are making massive inroads into the mass market, as we’ve seen with the seemingly unstoppable rise of fruit cider.

That trend is having knock-on effects in other markets, with major wine brands hoping that a sprinkling of fruit-flavoured fairy dust will give impetus to a pedestrian category.

Products where sugar, water and flavourings are added can’t legally be labelled as wine, and variations on the term ‘fruit fusion’ are evolving to describe them. Accolade Wines has launched Echo Falls Fruit Fusions and UK marketing director Amy White says the core drinkers are women in their mid-20s to early-30s with little previous wine knowledge.

“It was apparent that these consumers were switching to experiment with the sweeter profiles being offered through fruit ciders and cocktails or fruit-flavoured spirits,” says White.

Though the off-trade leads at the moment, Accolade is recommending chilled and over ice serves to get traction in the pub market.

It’s complicated

Many millennials are barely out of adolescence so they tend to be an awkward lot. So, no sooner have we told you they want sweeter flavours in cider, a brand like Bulmers comes along with a Zesty Blood Orange variant because its consumers are looking for what one Heineken executive called, on its launch, “a slightly more mature” take on such products.

And seemingly months after flavoured vodka made what market leader Smirnoff heralded as its big breakthrough in the UK, CGA figures emerged that showed the category suffering a 19% on-trade decline. Its fall was matched almost exactly by an increase in sales of tequila, which looked all but dead in the water a couple of years ago. Its renaissance has come with barely a slammer or a worm in sight.

Meanwhile, the craft beer scene’s love affair with powerful, US-style IPAs has run almost simultaneously with a backlash against them. You might even find some awkward customers in both camps.

These trends aren’t just driven by how much money big brand owners put into advertising any more. A study by the US advertising agency Barkley showed that millennials were al-most twice as likely to rely on word of mouth when making buying decisions than older generations, and that twice the number of millennials as non-millennials were liable to ‘like’ a brand on social media.

More than 20% ‘like’ a brand on Facebook at least once a day. Cracking the world of online recommendations is crucial for pubs, including review sites like TripAdvisor, not just Twitter and Facebook. But so too is getting the serve and all-round experience of being in the pub right, so that word-of-mouth recommendations flow in your favour.

“If you create a cool-looking drinks list,” says Copper at Drinkonomics, “the bloggers and writers need to know about it so you can get them on your side. If you don’t understand the power of social media, it can make or break your business.”

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