Beverage Preference by Generation: What You Need to Know

Choosing your drink of choice isn’t just a matter of thirst, need for a jolt, or a desire to wind down: it turns out the beverage you’re most likely to reach for might be influenced by your birthdate. 

From energy drinks to alcohol and tea, we’re going to take a look at the data and break down who is drinking what, by generation. This isn’t just an exercise in trivia, of course: this generational data can help beverage marketers target and capture consumers they may be missing. 

Caffeine through the ages

It’s 3pm and the post-lunch malaise is hitting you. You’re feeling like a python that just ate a soccer ball and wondering why your workplace doesn’t have a nap time. 

Believe it or not, your pick-me-up of choice, whether it’s drip coffee, canned iced coffee, or an energy drink is statistically predictable. 

The highly caffeinated energy drink market is dominated by Millennials, who were (of course) the primary marketing target when these beverages first became popular in the late ‘90s. According to Statista data, 42% of Millennials regularly crack open an energy drink when they’re running out of juice.

One might naturally think that Gen Z, has similar consumption habits ⸺ but research says otherwise. Only about one-third of Gen Z regularly consume energy beverages. Although this statistic may seem concerning, there are opportunities to engage this consumer.

Mintel’s “Energy Drinks – 2022” report shows that Gen Z chooses energy drinks based on their flavor profile. Energy drink brands looking to get their cans in the hands of Gen Z should place the focus of the marketing on developing intriguing and innovative flavors and put the tastiest drinks front and center. 

When it comes to their morning or afternoon jolt, Gen Z tends to favor Ready-to-Drink (RTD) Coffee. Mintel’s “Coffee and RTD Coffee 2021” report found that a staggering 60% of Gen Z regularly drink RTD coffee. 

Gen X and Boomers drink fewer energy drinks than either generation. They, predictably, rank coffee more highly as their pick-me-up of choice.

Millennials are drinkers, Gen Z not so much

It’s well established that Gen Z drinks less alcohol than every other generation, even when those generations were the same ages that Gen Z is now. It doesn’t look like that fact is changing anytime soon, either. Post-pandemic they plan to drink even less: a Mintel survey found that 23% of Gen Z drinkers plan on ordering less alcohol than they did before the pandemic. 

But perhaps what’s most interesting is the idea that Gen Z may just prefer drinks with a lower alcohol content. Data shows that Gen Z’s interest in moderation dovetails with their belief that spirits with lower alcohol-by-volume help with moderation. 

Appealing to Gen Z with low-alcohol cocktails, beers, and seltzers may help marketers reach out to this moderate generation. 

In the “Tea and RTD Tea 2021” report, Millennials lead the pack in drinks (with Gen X close behind). When asked how often they drank “several or more” drinks a week over a period of three months, 41% of Millennials said they did. Compare that with only 22% of Gen Z, 37% for Gen X, and 32% for Boomers. 

Looking back at the data, it’s interesting to see that Gen Z is drinking over 30% less than retirement-age people. 

Tea time for Gen Z

Tea is an interesting beverage of choice because it can either be relaxing like alcohol or chock full of caffeine, like coffee. Sometimes it’s both! 

Gen Z drinks the most amount of tea compared to Millennials, Gen X, and Boomers, with 37% saying that tea is a regular part of their routine. In fact, 35% of Gen Z said they were downing more tea in 2021 than before, and plan to continue.

Millennials, by contrast, drink the least amount of tea of all polled generations. What’s interesting is this data reflects the polar opposite of the numbers for alcohol preference, where Gen Z is at the bottom of the pack and Millennials are at the top. This possibly reflects Gen Z’s increased focus on wellness, and tea’s reputation as a soothing, peaceful, even meditative drink. 

For Gen Z, bagged tea is still their preference, with ready-to-drink teas a close second. However, Millennials, Gen X, and Boomers all drink slightly more RTD tea than Gen Z, which is surprising for a generation that loves RTD coffee. 

Could bagged tea feel more authentic to Gen Z, a slower part of a meditative process meant to be consumed over time? RTD coffee, by contrast, could be used more “on the go” and in the morning, when Gen Zers are slammed and don’t have the time to linger. 

Marketers might consider creating zen-like live branding experiences for tea campaigns, drawing in Gen Zers with a calming environment, nature, and wellness events. 

An opportunity, not a prescription

Demographics are a constantly shifting target: tastes change, drinks go out of fashion, and time moves on. However, none of these preferences have to be set in stone: they just mean that each generation may require different tactics to get their attention. 

If you’re looking for more advice on how to place your drink in the marketplace, contact Inspira Marketing today.



Mintel Reports and Trends (“Tea and RTD Tea – US, 2021,” “Coffee and RTD Coffee, 2021,” “Foodservice Alcohol Trends US, 2021”)

Energy Drinks Consumption: Consumers of Energy Drinks in the United States” – Published by 

Alexander Kunst, 2022

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