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Monday, October 07, 2013

The Millennials and Beer

Every fifteen years or so, elders eat their young.  Or rather, elder generations begin breathlessly reporting that the newest generation is comprised of worthless layabouts.  It's as predictable as the sun rising in the east.  Well, now it's the millennials' turn:
A generational shift is reshaping the workforce -- and businesses today are grappling with the changes.  Thousands of baby boomers retire every day in the U.S., while 20-somethings make up an increasingly larger share of the labor pool.  The annual Gresham Economic Summit, sponsored by the area Chamber of Commerce, focused on the trends.

John Carter, chairman of the Oregon Business Plan, said the newest generation of workers aren't interested in the career path that once was the norm. Much of Gen Y lacks the drive that defined older cohorts of workers, he said. "We've raised a generation that believes the only place you break a sweat is L.A. Fitness," he said.
It's also easy enough to find articles decrying how stupid the youngsters are, too.  (Google "US students" with "unprepared" or "slipping" and you'll see what I mean.)  Of course, the press have been printing almost identical versions of these stories for fifty years, so take them with a barge of salt.  In reality, the millennials are like every generation, except that they came of age during the worst recession since the 1930s.  And who's stupid fault was that?*

In the world of beer, the effect of these unknowable beings seems to be addressed with a similar level of insight and wisdom.  In one single passage of this Beverage World article about beer trends, we learn all these amazing facts about them (all bullets are cut-n-paste quotes):
  • [M]arketers shouldn’t be putting all of their eggs in the millennial basket to begin with.... They’re coming out of college in a heap of debt, with limited job prospects, thus postponing their financial independence and making them a bit more frugal than the immediately preceding generations. 
  • (That assertion seemed to be somewhat in conflict with what Dorsey would say the next day, that in 2017, “My generation will outspend baby boomers in the U.S.”)
  • Additionally, he talked about the rather ominous sounding “end of men,” where, for the first time in history, women are about to surpass men as the majority of the paid work force. It’s a function, he said, of men “doing so poorly in American society today,” with three times a many men not working today as they did in 1969.
  • What’s more, unlike the younger generation that everyone seems to be focusing on, boomers are a lot more brand loyal, especially when it comes to the value brand segment.  “Don’t forget about the economy drinker,” said MillerCoors’ Long during the beer leaders panel. “The economy drinker is the most loyal drinker of beer…Pay attention to brands.”
  • At the end of the day, how dire the situation is for U.S. beer really is a matter of perspective. As A-B InBev’s Edmond pointed out, in terms of dollar sales, the beer business is still doing better than many other industries out there.
So: after worrying for about ten seconds that the promiscuity of millennial drinkers is a concern, everyone quickly rallies around the idea that after all, baby boomers do really rock because they love good ole brands and "economy" beers and after all things are pretty good anyway so why are we even talking about this?

Unrelatedly, Coors is planning to bust out with new citrus-flavored Light and an iced tea version of its Redd's ale.  See, they're totally rocking it.

In reality, I suspect the millennials are about like every other generation in terms of buying habits.  There is a society-wide trend of fragmentation brought on by niche media, big data, and wide-open international markets.  The era when we sat in front of television sets watching Barney Miller together have passed as firmly as the era when we thrilled to different brands of the same light lager advertised on Barney Miller.  The beer market isn't shrinking, but it's not growing, either.  (Which means on a per-capita basis, beer consumption is down.)  The future is variety, which is confusing to beer companies that have always competed on brand.  Millennials, raised with the expectation of choice, will surely solidify this trend, but they didn't invent it, either. 

*Not theirs!


  1. It's possible the dreadful economic times we've experienced over the last few years have caused a paradigm shift in values and habits. Many millennials don't care about owning a house or a car. They have too much debt and not enough income. Anyone hoping to reach them with a marketing message must contend with the fact that they consume information in non-traditional ways. This is a huge challenge for large companies that have specialized in building brands via TV, radio and traditional print. Those channels do not reach millennials with any degree of consistency. In fact, I'm not sure there's any way to consistently reach them due to the fact that digital marketing is changing so quickly. It's an interesting challenge for the big fellas, including big beer.