Monday, March 17, 2008

New Winos, Imports and General Buying Habits

LA Times recently ran a piece on the Young Winos, a wine enthusiast group based in LA. Toward the bottom of the first page of the online story, the piece really gets interesting, as the story shifts a bit from the group, itself, to buying habits. The more I read the more I wondered how much correlation there is with your wine enthusiasts and young beer buyers. This little piece stood out most of all:
Unlike baby boomers -- whose first wines were then-inexpensive California wines and who, in large part, continue to stick with the state's brands -- local loyalties mean nothing to this group. With quality wine no longer the exception worldwide but the rule, this new generation buys wines from anywhere and everywhere. They focus on the best value they can find within their limited budgets.
Local loyalties, that's something I wonder about quite a bit. With all the beer enthusiasts out there bearing their Support Your Local Brewer bumper stickers, I can't help but think about the ever-increasing popularity in online trades and sales or beers from far away. Not only that, there's a whole beer sub-culture that seems obsessed with clicking off beers, those wanting to try anything new-to-them simply because they can. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't see a big problem with this, to a certain degree I do it myself. often I've gone through great lengths to try a style of beer I've not had before, not always worried about who brews it or what others say about it.

The other thing I haven't really thought much about is the "limited budgets" young drinkers have. I'm not old, just 31, so I won't pretend to talk about the 'younger days' too much here. That said, my college days were quite lean and I could barely afford gas in my Geo Metro, living on a ramen noodle diet with many of my dorm-mates. When I splurged on beer then, it was Corona Extra, and that was pretty much for taking to parties. It's odd to think that there's a significant portion of the young drinkers that can afford to explore new wines to the degree speculated in the LA Times piece. It isn't just there, check out the ages found on BA and RB, there's a lot of people under 25 with more than a hundred beers clicked off their list.

The Times article goes on to mention more of the buying habits.
Of the wine purchased by the 70 million Americans ages 21 to 30, 40% is imported. That purchasing tendency has been credited with pushing the rate of growth in sales of imported wines ahead of domestic wines, Gillespie says. Gen-Xers (the 45 million people ages 31 to 44) buy imported wines 32% of the time, whereas imports account for only 26% of wine purchased by 77 million baby boomers.
I can't help but think this is a status thing, whether it's the hot wines of the day being purchased by my generation, or even the not-hot wines bought by those thinking they're going against status quo. Of course, with older generations, a significant portion of the beer bought/consumed would be from industrial wineries, the economy wines that were popular before Napa Valley was synonymous with great wine - which really wasn't too long ago. The same is true for beer. Older generations didn't have the selection and their buying habits were formed long before the first craft beer revolution in the States. Still, if you're an industrial winery or brewer, this can't be comfortable to look at.

How about this?
Boomer wine drinkers play it safe; surveys indicate that 4 out of every 10 bottles they buy represent "favorite" wines. This younger group takes risks, relying on "favorite" wines for just 1 in 10 of their wine purchases.

"They are ruled by the joy of discovery," Gillespie says. So far, the industry has reached out to them with what he calls "fun" brands, priced $10 to $15, some with appealing animals on the label (sometimes called "critter wines"), others with funny names such as Oops and Red Truck.
Now this does sound familiar. I'm of the mindset that I'd rather experiment with a beer I've never heard of than pick up and old-standby I know I like. As with wines, there are stinkers out there, but those are few and far enough in between that it hasn't yet detoured my new beer buying habit.

In all, the LA Times piece was interesting, and thinking a bit more about how we will continue to support our local brewers while still developing our tastes for better imports and hard-to-get domestics from afar has been fun as well. Clearly I think we'll succeed in doing both, choosing to seek out new beers at a much slower rate than we appreciate and consume those brewed in our own back yard. Hopefully we can do that, right?