Understanding The Fickle Adult Beverage Consumer

Many of us will head to the grocery store this Memorial Day weekend to pick up a few items and, inevitably, that includes grabbing beer, wine or a spirit product. We have our list in hand and a pretty good idea of what we’re going to buy. But something happens to 21% of us while in the store: We change our mind. 

This is just one of the insights from IRI’s cross-generational study of adult beverage shopping habits in the U.S. IRI studied these habits with a focused eye on understanding the all-important Millennial consumer and uncovering whether behavior differs between generations.

“They may be fickle once they hit the store, but consumers from Millennials to seniors are indulging in beer, wine and spirit products with regular frequency at home and on premise. There is an opportunity for adult beverage brands to engage with shoppers while in the store and online to find new pockets of growth,” said Chris von der Linden, SVP, consumer and shopper marketing for IRI.



IRI uses its national panel of 100k consumers to create syndicated segments:

New Traditionalists are the largest, representing 21% of the U.S. population. They tend to be married, faith-involved, value-driven and financially stable. They are more mature and act more like generations, which preceded them. They represent 25% of performance in the category.

Confident Connectors represent 17% of U.S. population. Social is how they interact with one with another and they tend of be digitally savvy overall. Confident Connectors are socially conscious and have a greater awareness of their environment. They are foodies who tend to shop at specialty stores. Ten percent of beverage category performance is made up of Confident Connectors.

Free Spirits are a small segment at only 13% of U.S. population but represent the coveted Millennial market. They are single, involved, more ethnic, trendsetting and spontaneous. They are also more materialistic and value entrepreneurship. They are 15% of performance in the adult beverage category.

Struggling Wanderers are 21% of the U.S.population. They tend to be less educated, struggling financially, more price conscious and not digitally connected – but, 25% of performance in the category.

Concerned Aspirationalists, 21% of the U.S. population, are more female, struggling financially, worried, strapped for time and more involved in social media. For the Concerned Aspirationalist, it’s all about convenience and price. They are 16% of performance in the category.

Conscious Naturalists are 15% of the U.S. population. These Conscious Naturalists are also more female, more likely to be mothers, and happy, but overwhelmed. They are eco-conscious and look for minimally processed food, and homeopathic or locally grown products. They are fiscally responsible and are 15% of performance in the category.

In addition to leveraging the insights around the various segments, marketers should consider the following:

Packaging/labels matter for younger generations

Younger generations care about the look of their alcoholic beverages — 36% of Millennials and 30% of Gen Xers chooses by bottle, while only 12% for seniors and boomers do so. Packaging and labels are an important way of influencing these younger consumers in-store, so get creative in highlighting new flavors or ways to use the beverage.

There is a “lighter” trend centered on social responsibility

“There are some pretty good indicators versus 20 years ago that there is more awareness about drunk driving, especially among Millennials. The other part of the trend is health with metering intake of calories,” said von der Linden. But this desire isn’t exclusive to Millennials. There is interest across generations for products that are lighter in calories and alcohol by volume. Across all generations, 50% say they interested in lighter alternatives.

The sheer size of the Millennial generation can change a category

Millennials are changing the use of the champagne/sparkling category, making it an everyday adult beverage. A whopping 60% of Millennials say this beverage is great for drinking year round, which is a great opportunity for the champagne industry. “During a three-month period, Millennials drank two times more champagne than any other generational cohort,” said von der Linden.

Adult beverage companies are embracing influencer marketing

Separate from the trends IRI has uncovered, influencer marketing campaigns centered on the adult beverage category are increasing in our network. With consumers searching for inspiration, influencer marketing is an effective way to reach the digitally savvy, Millennial shopper who is always looking for variety and experimentation. Content around gift giving, entertaining and innovative cocktails is helping to educate and drive engagement in the adult beverage category despite differing state-by-state regulations on marketing to consumers.
“Don’t lose sight of Boomers while chasing Millennials,” von der Linden cautioned. “While Millennial growth is going to overtake Boomers over the next 5 to10 years, Boomers still represent 445% of category volume. So there is a need for a bifurcated strategy for promoting to both generations,” he added.

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