Europe's economic crisis obliterates Gen Z and millennial alcohol spending

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The European economy is going through a historically difficult period, whether you look at measures of GDP, exports, or consumer confidence. Now, signs are beginning to emerge that the struggle for growth and fears over jobs are fundamentally changing how people in Europe shop—and drink.

Europe’s young people are starting to spend less on alcohol and they don’t look like they’re going to be returning to binging in bars and nightclubs any time soon. But it’s likely to be the looming expectation of recession, not lifestyle choices, that is kicking off a fresh charge for sobriety. 

Europe’s crisis comes for the alcohol aisle 

A survey of 3,500 people across seven European countries shows historically high inflation, rising interest rates, and the energy crisis have led to a massive drop off in the amount of money people think they have to spend each month.

Savanta’s Consumer Compass report shows Brits and the French think they have about a third less to spend on non-essentials than they did a year ago, while perceived disposable income fell by a quarter in Germany and Italy. 

Even in the typically well-insulated Nordic countries, there is a perceived 21% fall in budgets.

Several major European economies are teetering on the verge of a technical recession, with Europe’s biggest economy, Germany, shrinking by 0.3% in 2023.

Amid an according squeeze in household budgets, few items in consumers’ baskets have been deemed sacred. Only groceries, utility bills, and gasoline have been protected by European residents, while things like dining out, fashion, and holidays have all been sacrificed, according to Savanta.

But for Gen Z and Millennials in particular, it’s alcohol that has been virtually wiped from their expenses, whether that’s in restaurants, bars, or on the grocery aisle. 

Savanta didn’t observe any increase in alcohol spending over the usually indulgent festive period last year. Across most of the major European economies, more than half of shoppers say they spent less on alcohol in 2023.

The trend toward sobriety is one driven by the continent’s struggling young people. Savanta’s research shows among Europe’s 18-34-year-olds, 63% are spending less on alcohol purchases in supermarkets, while 67% are drinking less when they go to restaurants and bars. 

Italian Gen Zers are leading that temperance movement, with seven in 10 young people there choosing to cut back on alcohol spending last year.

Across all age ranges, three out of every five adults in Europe have cut their spending on alcohol, according to Savanta’s research.

Young people are quitting booze

Savanta’s analysis, which was conducted before the traditionally temperate “Dry January” period, is a reminder of not only the difficult choices faced by households but also of a growing trend of young people distancing themselves from alcohol. 

Gen Z and millennials are kicking off a widespread sobriety movement across the globe, one that’s been broadly regarded as a cultural phenomenon driven by wellness trends, higher levels of introversion, and more alternative options like no-and-low alcohol drinks.

For some drink makers, it’s even sparking fears of long-term decline. According to Silicon Valley Bank’s 2024 State of the US Wine Industry report, younger consumers have half the “mindshare” for wine compared to their boomer elders, suggesting a steep drop-off in future spending. 

Increasingly, though, gathering research is beginning to point to the conclusion that shifting drinking habits aren’t just a result of lifestyle or preference, but also a sign of a hit to the wallets of the financially worst-off generation.

A survey of U.S. consumers by NCSolutions found 61% of Gen Zers planned to pump the brakes on alcohol spending this year, while older, wealthier adults were expected to go the opposite way.

It’s not surprising when you consider the budgetary restraints left on young people after years of price rises. One in 10 U.K. Gen Z say they were forced to turn down work citing the cost of commuting and uniforms.

In Europe, it looks like economic decline has combined with long-term cultural shifts to create the perfect storm for drink suppliers.

“There appears to be a generational shift in attitudes towards alcohol consumption that inflationary increases have simply accelerated, rather than created,” Nikki Lavoie, EVP of marketing, brand, and innovation at Savanta, told Fortune.

It also appears that Europe’s young people might be getting used to their budgeting-induced cut back on alcohol, or at least are bracing themselves for a long winter away from the booze.

Savanta reports that a significantly higher proportion of European Gen Z and millennials plan to spend less on alcohol both in and out of the home in the next three months.

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