With the rise in CBD-infused food and beverage products and growing acceptance of cannabis in North America, many new players in the industry are targeting young adults as their key to success. But consumers in their early 20s haven’t responded as well as expected.
Social media research firm Fizziology studies the way digital presence intersects with what people consume and love, across all categories in the US. In a recent report the team analyzed the social media of 21-23 year olds: the cohort of Gen Z of a legal drinking age.
The youngest drinkers of legal age in the US have been made out to be strong adopters of CBD, potentially abandoning alcohol for low-ABV cocktails, mocktails and cannabis. But their social media reveals that Gen Z largely isn’t discussing and sharing these trends.
Gen Z consumers were found to talk about all CBD products 92% less than they talk about beer, liquor or wine. They don’t consider cannabis a replacement for alcohol and keep their consumption of the two separate.
Though Gen Z focuses on wine, beer and spirits almost evenly, they are less focused on beer than older generations. Jen Handley, co-founder of Fizziology, told BeverageDaily that ‘romance and general aesthetic’ is important to Gen Z and they want to consume and share beverages that “are in line with their own personal brand.”
If not CBD, then what’s popular with Gen Z?
The upcoming fall and winter seasons typically mean a switch to heavier, spiced beers and red wines. This summer saw a surge in popularity of FMBs like hard seltzers, and indication that Gen Z and millennials are looking for low sugar, low carb alcoholic drinks.
Drizly, an alcohol ecommerce platform, expects red wine to remain strong through the colder months, though hard cider has seen a slight decline. Usually a favorite during apple season, cider has taken a hit in sales thanks to the growth of hard seltzers.
On Drizly, millennials recently made up 79.3% of all hard seltzer sales, followed by Gen X at 13.9% and Gen Z at 4.5%. Drizly categorizes seltzer under beer, and found that in August it made up 21% of all beer sales.
“We anticipate the hard seltzer category will continue to dominate through September, at which time sales will start to taper off as the seasons change,” said Drizly, which connects local retailers with consumers for alcohol delivery.
"We expect original craft cider flavors will still lead category sales this fall, even though they are sharing the market with newer more innovative flavors like rosé and pumpkin cider.”
Though malt beverages like seltzer are only accounting for 1% of all Gen Z social media conversation, compared to beer’s 36% and wine’s 32%, Handley believes it’s still a category worth attention.
She noted that the recent decisions of several major alcohol brands to launch or acquire a hard seltzer product shows how seriously the industry is taking the trend, as it “falls in line with the general sense of holistic wellness and health and mindfulness that Gen Z has.”
Quality over quantity in the cold months
Fizziology calls the Gen Z alcohol aesthetic ‘gritty, grungy, retro and imperfect,’ which it says fits the visual imagery of wine and heavier beers. IPAs still hold 42% of Gen Z’s beer attention, followed by Pale Ales with 13% and a new interest in German-style beer with 7%.
“It’s not that they’re sober, but I think they are more focused on quality over quantity.--the rise of lower alcohol IPAs, those are contributing to IPAs holding ground,” Handley said.
Drizly said it does not see much of a seasonal shift in drink preferences on its platform for Gen Z, but overall, they align with the typical autumn alcohol trends.
The retailer reported that month-over-month autumn sales increases of red wines are seen most from millennials (21%), followed by Gen X (19%) and Baby Boomers (14%). Boomers have the most steady increase in cider sales during the season, while the younger generations usually just cause a sharp spike in October.
“Though we’ve seen an increased interest in sour ales in the summer months, we expect those to step aside to make way for other categories as the temperatures chill,” Drizly said.
“As expected with fall, heavy and darker beers will increase in popularity once again, with interest shifting from fruit beers, shandies, hard lemonades and hard iced teas to seasonal favorites, stouts, Belgian-style ales and porters.”