By Barbara Barrielle
Damien Wilson, Ph.D, The Hamel Family Faculty Chair of Wine Business at Sonoma State, is never boring. That bodes well for his students, of course, but for the rest of us, his colorful analysis of the wine industry and his predictions for the future are always layered with a bit of humor.
Watch the video of his Bold Prediction (above) and learn that “HENRY” has transitioned from the name of a king and a rogue prince to a description of the wine consumers we need to consider to grow in the future.
The HENRYs are the Generation Z and Millennial adults that believe that the world is at their feet. Then they graduate from the expensive college, find a job that will not quite make them a CEO in under five years, still earn a decent living, but are saddled with student loan debt.
Wilson did not coin the HENRY term but it certainly does apply to the wine industry and those lifestyle goods with a perception of luxury or status or an indulgence. Many times HENRYs feel they deserve these experiences or are entitled to own/drink/eat something that social media has made desirable, popular, must-have or a status symbol.
Shawn Tully, a writer for Fortune Magazine, coined the HENRYs monniker in his October 24, 2019, article about who is going to pay for the bailout. And Dr. Wilson applied it to how we need to market wine.
The HENRYs “are comfortable spending and wine is an image thing but values are important,” says Wilson. “Symbolic consumption, value-driven decisions and sustainability will drive purchases.
“On-premise is key because wine in restaurants are key to social interaction. The HENRYs are also experiencing a wealth transition from their parents, the Boomers, who were strong money earners.” Baby Boomers may be more frugal now with luxury purchases as they age and are concerned with medical costs and retirement.”
The HENRYs drank cheap beer and wine in college and then graduated to craft beers and wines not poured from a box. They are gradually getting to know wine and many times look for wines that are not what their parents drank or something that is a bit out of the ordinary. Sustainability, biodynamics and organic are catchphrases. But, what the HENRYs want in wine is the experience.
Wineries have pivoted from simple tasting bar sipping to one on one experiences, many times accompanied by cheese, food or a unique tour or “backstage” access to production. Much of the controlled tasting experiences have been the result of COVID-19 restrictions but, even prior to the pandemic, HENRYs sought small producers and were heavily reliant on what people perceived as luxury. They look for cache and exclusivity and, while they may not be able to afford all that they want, they will start with a brand perceived as interesting or unique and build from there. If treated well, HENRYs can be very loyal and are not afraid to spend.
Dr. Wilson points out that “Sonoma is in a perfect position to take advantage of the HENRYs as they steer away from the expensive blockbuster Cabs sought out by the prior generations. They will look for wines from lesser known regions like Paso Robles, drink Rhone varietals, seek out hip garagiste winemakers and look for what social media tells them is fashionable.”
Technology is key and wineries need to stay on top of how to continually connect. During Covid-19, intimate and personal experiences became key until wineries were locked down completely. The emergence of virtual tastings and experiences has driven sales of many producers during this time but these tastings need to offer more than just a tasting chat. HENRYs want to interact with winemakers and vintners and now wineries have a chance to do that beyond their four walls.
However, keeping anyone intrigued on a Zoom call when they are inundated with workday Zooms is a challenge. A winery needs to have something special, memorable that appeals to consumers to buy for the tasting, and for them continue to be loyal. HENRYs are loyal until they are not. Until something more interesting or fashionable comes along. Two producers killing it in online DTC are Lingua Franca in the Willamette Valley with their free webinars on wine production and wine regions each Wednesday, and Alpha-Omega Winery in Napa who theme their virtual tastings. The later with a South Pacific twist including dancers, food, and costumes had over 100 wine lovers online. These translate to loyalty and sales.
The short term may be a difficult recovery, especially in places where Covid-19 was combined with wildfires to upend both production and sales, but the long-term bodes well for those who keep the HENRYs in mind. They are price sensitive but are not afraid to spend. They will look for value-added. Having a quality wine priced much lower as an entry level, even if it is sold at a loss, may be the way to “stepwise progression” for a consumer as they drink finer wines. Wilson suggests “start low in the on-boarding process” and build loyalty. Give HENRYs extra value, trendy varieties, emerging regions but, above all, value, experiences and perceived luxury.
Read more ;Bold Predictions from industry experts