A Deep Dive Into Buying Trends for Millennials
The largest adult generation drinks across categories and favors e-commerce
Millennials now comprise the world’s largest adult population, and they have the buying power to match. Currently aged 26 to 41, this is the best-educated generation, and it is quickly becoming the most influential. This certainly holds true on Drizly, where millennials account for the largest share of the platform’s sales. While millennials represent 22 percent of the U.S. population, they have an outsized impact on Drizly sales share at 53 percent.
“This group is clearly shopping online for beverage alcohol far more than previous generations,” says Liz Paquette, Drizly’s head of consumer insights. “Millennials grew up with computers and smartphones as teens and young adults, so they used to shopping via e-commerce.”
Unlike previous generations, which may have favored wine or beer, millennials drink across categories.
“Millennials are more open-minded when it comes to purchasing alcoholic beverages, and are not as brand-dependent as older generations,” notes Gillian Sciaretta, the wine buyer at New Jersey-based Gary’s Wine & Marketplace. “They are also more about quality over quantity, and are willing to spend more when purchasing a product.”
To appeal to this important generation, here’s what brands and retailers should know about millennials’ preferences and purchasing behaviors.
Millennials’ Go-To BevAlc Categories
“As expected, beer, wine, and vodka are in the top three of millennials’ preferences,” says Mariana Fletcher, the head of analytics and insights at IWSR Drinks Market Analysis. “Millennials drank more beer during the pandemic compared to younger consumers.”
According to NielsenIQ data for the 52 weeks ending Dec. 4, 2021, beer had the highest penetration among consumers aged 21 to 34, with 35 percent of the population purchasing within the category. Wine and spirits saw similar penetration with millennials at 30 percent and 29 percent, respectively. Compared to the previous year, beer decreased five percentage points and spirits dipped by one point. Wine saw a slight gain of one percentage point year-over-year.
When purchasing from Drizly, millennials favor spirits and beer over other beverages. They over-index on beer (17 percent share versus 15 percent for the other generations), and slightly under-index on wine (37 percent vs. 38 percent). Liquor holds 44 percent of share among millennials.
Within the spirits category, Sciaretta finds that tequila and ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails are top sellers among millennials; on Drizly, millennials over-index on both of these categories as well, with RTDs holding 5.2 percent of spirits share and tequila holding 20 percent of spirits share. Millennials also specifically over-index on silver/blanco tequila.
Whiskey also tends to be a favorite of millennials at 37 percent of spirits share; this generation’s top sellers include bourbon, Scotch, and Irish whiskey.
Within the beer category, Sciaretta notes that craft brews are huge, and although seltzer remains popular, sales have plateaued. On Drizly, hard seltzer holds 24 percent of beer share for millennials (versus 21 percent for other generations), and IPA (including standard, double, imperial, hazy and New England varieties) holds 17 percent share (versus 15 percent for other generations). This suggests that millennials appreciate a variety of malt-based beverage styles, from crisp and refreshing to bold and hops-forward.
Millennials over-index on Champagne and sparkling wine on Drily, with the category holding 28 percent sales share for millennials versus 25 percent for other generations. This is the No. 2 wine category for millennials, while white wine ranks second across other generations.
Fletcher of IWSR Drinks Market Analysis has also seen younger generations gravitate toward sparkling wines. However, she notes the occasions for drinking them differ between millennials and Gen Z.
“We’ve found that millennials associate Champagne with parties and celebrations at home, while Gen Z relates the drink to occasions outdoors on the street, or in virtual gaming events,” she says. “It’s the same drink, but in very different occasions.”
Millennials’ wine preferences run toward dry selections over sweet, says Sciaretta, and they enjoy a wide range of varieties. “This generation is very willing to try wines from off-the-beaten path regions,” says Sciaretta, “and wines made with esoteric grapes like Godello and Falanghina.”
Whether they choose wine, beer, or spirits, millennials prioritize treating themselves with higher-quality products. According to IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, off-premise spending peaks between $30 and $49.99 per unit for millennials. Gen Z, on the other hand, typically stays below the $29.99 price point and boomers prefer the under-$20 category.
What’s Trending: No/Low, Cans, and Shared Values
Across the beer, wine, and spirits categories, millennials purchase more non-alcoholic and low-alcohol beverages than other generations. Alcohol-free drinks accounted for 0.22 percent share of total sales on Drizly during the past 12 months, compared to 0.18 percent share for all other generations.
Millennials also buy a greater share of canned beverages on Drizly, making up 14 percent of sales share compared to 13 percent for other age groups. Bottle sales make up a slightly lower share for millennials at 82 percent versus 84 percent for all other age groups.
When it comes to choosing brands, millennials tend to seek out producers that share their ethical and environmental values. “These are topics that positively influence many millennials in their attitudes toward businesses,” says Fletcher.
Star power is another draw for this generation, particularly for younger millennials. However, says Sciaretta, it has its limits.
“Celebrity products where the quality and value are good enough to warrant repeat purchases, and where the products are savvy enough to become solid brands, are the most successful,” she says. “Examples include the rosés Hampton Water and Miraval. Otherwise, these products can be like shooting stars— they get decent sales when initially released, but then the interest quickly fades away.”
Shopping Experience and Service are Also Key
In addition to stocking millennials’ sought-after products and categories, notes Paquette, having a strong online presence is essential in reaching this audience, “whether that means having their own website or partnering with a marketplace like Drizly.”
Not only that, adds Mike Fisch, the director of innovation at Gary’s Wine & Marketplace, a retailer must provide a seamless e-commerce experience. “Millennials expect fast delivery and a high degree of customer service,” he says. Along with keeping online inventory up to date, “it is critical that order status updates are accurately and promptly communicated to millennial consumers to keep them updated throughout the order lifecycle.”