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Health conscious millennials challenging alcohol industry

Legacy of cheap wine still haunting older generations

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You know how Fridays are the most exciting day of the week for hardworking individuals? It almost feels celebratory to act on the urge of raising one with your friends. This rings true for me too, and 11 years ago when I was still working in the banking sector I often referred to my former employer (“How can we help you?”) as my beverage company start-up.

One day, as a colleague dropped me off at my parents’ house after we had a quick drink, we noticed a very happy chappy – a sloshed construction worker who mumbled “Pardon me, Sir” to a street pole, convinced that the object had lost weight.

My colleague and I chuckled and even wished that we too could’ve knocked off at 14:00 on a Friday. You know, to get a head-start in the drinking game. The construction worker was not the first inebriated uncle we’ve encountered, though. Surely every family has a rock star uncle who loves the curves of a bottle.

It’s sad.

I recently read an article on The Wine Goggle by Emile Joubert titled “No Country for Plastic Wine and its Low-life Boozers”. He mentioned the cheap virility of KWV sins that still haunts us today, which is an inexpensive and almost cheerful wine. The price index of cheap wine in South Africa won’t raise our per capita consumption. Instead it will only break down the hard-earned pride of each and every labourer on our wine farms.

From left to right: Kanye Ngisa, Marcelle Nikloes and Heinrich Bothman at the 2019 Juliet Cullinan Bank Wine Show at Summer Place in Sandton.

After a recent tour of the SAB World of Beers in Johannesburg, I was also reminded of how enormous our country is and how diverse our various cultures are. We literally come in all shapes and shades, and even more than wine, beer still unites the country. I was intrigued by this realisation, and suddenly went on a mission to find out why beer is still so loved.

Well, it is part of the Mzansi history in the form of umqombothi, a traditional beer made from maize malt, sorghum malt, yeast and water. Fast-forward to the annual Wacky Wine Weekend in Robertson, which apparently contributed around 8% to our GDP in 2017 and also created many opportunities to entrepreneurs to grow their businesses, although the number of festival-goers significantly dropped in the last two years.

I wondered if beer had a greater appeal than wine, and also whether Generation Y was no longer phased by wine festivals.

Or perhaps our current economic climate was just negatively impacting their lifestyles. This beckoned the question: how do millennials party? Yes, how do they survive with the increasing living costs and still manage to have a good time?

It is often thought that millennials were throwing around piles of cash on brunches and what more. But as far as nights out go, new research suggests that so-called generation Y’ers were actually thriftier than their baby boomer parents. Nightlife habits are changing more drastically because millennials are going out less.

A New York Post article described them as “the greatest generation of couch potatoes”. They’re streaming more television series’, spending more time on phones, socialising via social media and drinking at home. To top it all, “moderate alcohol consumption is becoming the new cool”.

Festival goers at the annual Wacky Wine Weekend 2019.
Festival goers at the annual Wacky Wine Weekend 2019.

Brands are marketing their booze as “wellness drinks” in a desperate bid to capture the market. Now, wellness is making its way into an unexpected industry: alcohol. From “clean spirits” and “wellness beers” to sugar-free, paleo-friendly, and keto-friendly natural wine, brands are jumping on the wellness-obsessed millennial trend. Natural wines are becoming increasingly popular and apparently made with fewer processes and chemicals and therefore less likely to cause hangovers, according to the winemakers. (I’ll be sure to put it to the test!)

Van Loveren, a leading family-owned winery, that truly understands the ever-changing consumer climate, boasts with their “Almost Zero” de-alcoholised wines. “Almost Zero” is crafted from Sauvignon Blanc  with the alcohol removed.

It is crisp and tasty, with less than 0.5% alcohol – the same as the alcohol-free beers on the market.

Better yet, it has 75% less kilojoules than a normal glass of wine. But more of this in a later column, when we’ll talk about keeping the kilojoules low.

Coming back to the happy hour construction worker that a former colleague and I encountered on a Friday afternoon 11 years ago… Whilst Generation Y has made the mind shift of being conscience of what they put into their bodies, a large part of our demographics still buy cheaply made wine. How do we change that? How do we change the mind-set of paying more for quality and raising the bar for many struggling labourers and adding value to the holistic value chain within the wine industry?

More questions than answers, I guess.

The big question is: “Are we asking the right questions?”

I’ll leave that to you to answer.

Heinrich Bothman
Heinrich Bothman
Heinrich Bothman is a certified Cape Sommelier, wine evaluator and judge. He has a decade’s experience in the wine industry. Heinrich studied Business of Wine at the Graduate School of Business of the University of Cape Town and also obtained his international judging qualification from Stellenbosch University.
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