The wine industry must actively court young adults or miss out on a generation of consumers forever, a conference in London heard this week.

Speaking at an International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC) seminar on the youth market, Darryl M Roberts, publisher of America’s Wine X magazine, said baby boomers embraced wine culture in a way the next generations have not.

In the US, per capita consumption of wine has fallen 20% since 1985. Today’s 21-34 year olds drink twice as much alcohol as over 35s, and spend $5bn in the process – but they don’t drink wine, Roberts said.

‘People establish their consumption habits for life during their mid-late 20s. We must integrate wine with the whole lifestyle portfolio, not isolate it as a separate choice.’

According to surveys carried out by analysts Wine Intelligence, and Young’s Brewers, while young adults in the UK are consuming alcohol at a faster growing rate than the population overall, 18-24-year-olds favour lager, spirits and pre-mixed drinks over wine. 25-34-year-olds drink wine, but only once a week on average and usually at home.

But not everyone is worried – and some reckon the youth market is well able to look after itself.

Michael Cox, managing director of distributors Negociants UK said, ‘The young must be intrigued into wine, not tricked. We must make it part of the good life and concentrate on the part it plays in civilised behaviour. The wine industry should patiently wait for young adults to pass their rites of passage.’

The fact that nearly half of 18-34 years surveyed expect to be drinking more wine as they get older lends weight to Cox’s argument. For all other alcoholic drinks, respondents expected to be drinking the same or less.

In the UK the figures are not as gloomy as they are in the US. Wine is growing in popularity among young drinkers, particularly women who are forecast to drink 6.2% more wine in 2004 than they did in 1999. Overall, wine consumption is predicted to be up by 4.1%.

It was generally agreed that to reach younger buyers it was more important to have screwcaps, easy-to-pronounce wine names, smaller bottles and competitive pricing in pubs and bars than wacky packaging. ‘Quality and price are key,’ Matthew Dickinson of Thierry’s Wine Services said.

According to survey results, young adults are most influenced by price and familiarity when choosing wine, with country of origin and recommendation not far behind. Label design was relatively unimportant to those surveyed.

Written by Liz Hughes4 July 2002