|What Baby Boomers want|
American wine consumption has been increasing for decades. When I graduated from high school in the 1960s, Americans quaffed 200 million gallons of wine. Sales went up and up, until for some reason they took a dip in the early 1990s. Then they resumed their climb, and last year American vintners poured out some 770 million gallons of vino.
Approximately one third of Americans drink wine on a regular or semi-regular basis. The core consumer group is affluent Baby Boomers. According to one study on winebusiness.com, almost 90 percent of wine drinkers are homeowners. More than half are two-earner couples, boasting household incomes over $100,000. Almost half of wine drinkers have graduated from college.
Women, more than men, choose wine as their preferred alcoholic drink. Some 55 percent of women in the 50 to 64 age group choose wine as their favorite alcoholic drink. The figure rises to 63 percent for women 65 and older.
Less than 20 percent of men say wine tops their list of alcoholic drinks. "Apart from the cultural issues (i.e., beer and football, beer and 'getting together with the guys'), the way we market wine makes many men feel insecure," sniffs one report, saying the wine industry intimidates male customers. Wine is caught up in status, and apparently a lot of men don't think they know enough about wine to order it in a social occasion. They fear they'll make the "wrong" choice, so they tend to turn to a brand name of liquor or else a premium grade of beer.
One reason for the increasing popularity of wine is that Americans are paying more attention to food, and that has brought greater interest in what gets poured into their glass. "We’re becoming a nation that enjoys food culture,” says Stephanie Gallo, vice president of marketing for the California-based Gallo wine company. "As people embrace cooking and enjoy delicious meals, wine is a natural beverage that accompanies those meals.”
|A drink for young males|
It also seems that wine, more than beer, is resistant to recession. While wine sales increased in 2010, the sale of suds had a sobering year, down by 3 million barrels, from 183 million to 180 million. The most popular beers like Bud Lite and Miller fizzled by more than 5 percent. Only 4 of the top 30 brands increased sales for 2010.
Why are beer sales down while wine sales are up? One headache for beer is the recession, which has hit young males -- the prime beer drinking group -- harder than other groups. Meanwhile, established middle-class wine drinkers, especially those with two incomes, are more likely to have made it through the recession without a financial hangover.
But it could be that Americans are simply becoming a more sophisticated, upscale bunch. Fewer people work traditional blue-collar jobs and identify with the beer-drinking working class. Americans also crave innovation. There's nothing innovative about Budweiser, which might explain why those beers that are increasing sales are the microbreweries like Boston Beer, or else the cheapest beers like PBR (and if you don't know what PBR stands for, ask a 20-something).
Just so you don't think we're a nation of boozers, I should assure you that neither wine nor beer is the most popular drink sold in America. That category goes to soft drinks. Followed by bottled water, then coffee, then beer, followed in turn by milk and fruit drinks.
But if you want to be classy, if you want your neighbors to think you have a college degree and make over $100,000 a year, then wine is your choice of beverage.