SANTA ROSA -- Producers of high-end wine face a "luxury drought" decade through 2020, in which attracting younger "affluent" consumers who actively acquire luxury goods will be increasingly challenging as the ranks of such buyers decline until the buying power of the Millennial increases as they age, according to a luxury products marketing expert at a major wine direct-sales conference Wednesday.
This demographic trend suggests that recent indications of increased sales of wines over $20 a bottle do not portend a return to boom times for luxury-tier wines, according to Pam Danziger, president of Unity Marketing and Wednesday's keynote speaker of the 2011 Direct to Consumer Symposium in Santa Rosa.
"Don't buy it," she told the audience. "The consumer has changed. It's not going to go back to the boom again until 2020."
Her firm's quarterly survey of 1,250 households in the top 20 percent of U.S. earners showed a 25 percent increase in spending on wine in the past two years, from $400 a quarter in 2009 to $500 in 2010. Similar growth was seen in a two-year survey of American Express credit card wine purchases prepared for the symposium.
U.S. consumers reach their highest personal income, called the "window of affluence," from age 35 to 54, and those in the first 10 years of that bracket spend two to four times more on luxury goods than older consumers in that window, according to Ms. Danziger, the keynote speaker of the 2011 Direct to Consumer Symposium in Santa Rosa.
Trouble is, in 2010 the ranks of the younger "affluents," who are more likely to acquire and experiment with luxury products and services, started decreasing in proportion to those in the second 10-year phase of the "window," and that trend is expected to continue through 2020.
Affluent consumers in the second 10-year portion of the window tend to dominate the target market for luxury goods but "have a house full of stuff and are downsizing," she said. In the middle of this decade, the larger Millennial generation, which has more affinity to fine wine than Generation X, will start entering the affluence window significantly. That is expected to increase the proportion of young affluents back to 2010 levels by 2020.
Thus, marketers of luxury goods such as a number of wines from the North Coast will have to work harder to attract affluent consumers who increasingly will have less interest in spending money on luxury goods, creating a "luxury drought," Ms. Danziger said.
Organic luxury wine sales growth from Millennial consumers now age 25 to 34 will have to come as they become affluent enough to make such purchases. Marketing that speaks to the new "'value shift" among younger affluents and up-and-coming Millennials should dominate this decade, Ms. Danziger recommended.
"The good news is there is opportunity coming," she said. "The bad news is that they are not affluent yet to be able to buy $25 bottles of wine."
Each quarter her firm surveys the spending habits of 1,250 U.S. households in the top 20 percent of earners. That slice totals about 23.5 million of 120 million U.S. households, with annual household income starting at $100,000 and averaging $170,000. They contribute more than 40 percent of consumer spending and more than half of all U.S. household income, 90 percent of which is considered disposable.