While wine consumption is increasing in the U.S. -- spurred on in part by the wine adoption habits of American Millennials (young adults aged 21 to 31) -- the opposite is happening in France. Since 1980 French wine consumption has decreased by more than 50% from 120 liters per capita to today's rate of 55 liters per capita.
Though in some ways this is positive, it is also rather alarming. Especially since a large portion of the population that is not drinking wine are France's Millennials or young adults in their 20's. Indeed they have moved away from wine to embrace other beverages -- primarily beer and spirits in the alcohol category, and bottled water, sodas, and juices.
Further reason for alarm is the ongoing crisis for some French wine producers who can't find a market for their grapes. Grubbing-up schemes are still in progress, the appellation system is being re-organized, and global wine competition is becoming even fiercer with new wine countries coming on board each year. Though France does have commendable wine export records with solid marketing abroad, within France very few wine marketing efforts are occurring and most are discouraged by government regulations.
So why are France's Millennials not drinking wine -- especially in a country that is considered by many to be the wine Mecca of the world? In an attempt to answer this question, a qualitative research project was jointly organized by Sonoma State University's Wine Business Program and Montpellier's Supagro (University of Agronomics). A series of in-depth interviews with French millennials were conducted. These resulted in several themes to explain the decrease, as well as suggestions for French wine marketers to approach this new generation.
Reasons French Millennials Don't Drink Wine
The study exposed five major reasons that young French adults in their 20's do not drink wine. These reasons are validated by findings from other studies:
1) Wine is Traditional/Old -- most young adults agreed that wine was part of France's culture and tradition, but said it was a drink for older people. As young adults, they prefer to drink other beverages, but will still have a glass of wine with their family over a meal 1 to 3 times per month.
2) Strong Anti-Alcohol Sentiments -- several of the interviewees referenced the strong anti-alcohol movement that has been in effect in France since 1991. The campaign has been very successful at decreasing drunk-driving, and includes commercials against drinking, as well as stiff fines, warning labels on bottles, and prohibitions on alcohol advertising via television or radio. This effort is to be lauded as very successful, and one which other countries may want to model. The impact on wine consumption though has been particularly strong -- as wine is the primary alcoholic beverage of France. Now many of the young adults say they prefer beer or cocktails to drink in a nightclub or bar. One person commented, "Beer has lower alcohol than wine, so I usually buy beer in a nightclub."
3) Don't Like the Taste of Wine -- more than half of the interviewees admitted that they didn't enjoy the taste of wine. In fact, when they did drink it, most said they preferred sweet white wines such as muscat, moelleux, or Sauternes. In the past, children in France used to be introduced to wine by their parents at the dinner table, with a small amount being added to water. In this way they became accustomed to the taste. With this new Millennial generation this practice has stopped, so many do not taste wine until older. With sweeter beverages such as sodas and juices being the primary benchmark, the often drier, tannic, and more acidic red and white wines are not desirable.
4) Good Wine is Too Expensive -- "France has a lot of cheap wine," said one interviewee. "The good wine is just too expensive -- especially in restaurants. In nightclubs and bars, you often don't see wine -- just beer and cocktails. If they do have wine, it is cheap and bad." Other French Millennials echoed this sentiment, and said that beer was cheaper to purchase than wine.
5) Wine is Confusing -- surprisingly many of the young French adults -- with the exception of those studying wine -- found the product to be confusing. "I don't know which one to pick when I go in a store," said one person. "There are so many names and regions, and I don't know what they will taste like." Another commented, "It is very frustrating buying wine in France. If I find a wine I like from a certain region, and I go to buy from that region again, it often doesn't taste the same. It would be nice to have clear brands with a more consistent taste."
On the Positive Side
There were some positive comments about wine, with the most common sentiment being that wine is good with food. Most said they never drink wine without food. A common word used to describe wine was "natural" and creating a "convivial" atmosphere with family and friends. Another encouraging aspect was that most young French adults did not view wine as a beverage to party with in order to get rowdy. They described it as a drink for relaxation with friends and family.
The French Millennials interviewed were asked their opinion on what the French wine industry could do to sell more wine in a responsible and safe manner to their generation. The data is still being analyzed, but a few recommendations included starting a "Buy Local Wine Campaign" to promote local producers and protect terrior driven wine; launching a national French wine brand at a premium price point that promoted all major regions; and enhancing wine education and culture in schools and universities. Recommendations on packaging were also provided, with almost all French Millennials suggesting offerings of smaller wine bottles of quality wine in restaurants, nightclubs and bars. Clearer and more colorful labels were also recommended.
In conclusion, it appears that France has done an admirable job at decreasing destructive and dangerous drinking levels. Indeed other countries can learn from their efforts. Now it may be time to move onto the next phase of educating and socializing people to responsible wine consumption. In this way, the long and proud culture of wine production in France can be sustained in the future.
By Liz Thach and Francois d’Hauteville