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Gen Z & Millennial Workers Are Changing The Beverage Industry — What Is it They Demand?

Young restaurant worker serving wine to young guests

Nearly four years since the onset of the pandemic, trade workers in the beverage industry have seen a monumental shift in where and how they work. In an industry that’s rarely in short supply of workers, millions were left jobless due to shutdowns, leaving them at a crossroads. Do they continue to work in an industry that typically lacks workplace benefits or do they forge new career paths elsewhere? This has led to the most significant staffing supply shortage to date.

The shortage has ushered in a transformation in the food and beverage industry. The pandemic laid bare the fragility of businesses and their relationships with staff. There has been a cognitive shift in how workers feel about their employers and what they feel they deserve in return for their work. 

Provi and SevenFifty Daily’s recently published 2023 Beverage Industry Career & Salary Survey Report gets to the heart of the sentiment and demands of today’s beverage industry workers. More than 1,800 trade professionals were polled from across all tiers of the industry, from the on- and off-premise to importers, distributors and producers. One of the most interesting aspects of the report is the sentiment from the youngest segment polled. 

Gen Zers and young millennials, aged 22-30, over-indexed on many issues counter to their older colleagues, supporting the notion that is obvious in every other industry: the beverage industry is quickly diversifying and it’s being led by the newest generations entering the workforce. So what is it they want?

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For Young Professionals Entering the Trade, Pay, Benefits and Social Justice Matter Most

Social justice movements have put a greater spotlight on an industry that’s well overdue for change. Let’s look at this generation of workers and dive deeper into the issues that matter to them most. 

Where They Work

This age segment (ages 22-30) primarily works in the on-premise and wholesale tiers of the industry, representing 10 percent of each of those polled, respectively. They also have strong representation in the producer tier, representing 8 percent of those polled. 

The prior makes sense. They are the youngest workers in the industry, occupying more entry-level positions in the on-premise, such as barbacks, servers, bartenders and kitchen staff. When it comes to the wholesale tier, they hold sales, marketing and management positions.

What They Demand

As Gen Zers and millennials age into the workforce, they’re bringing new beliefs in social and economic structure. The old ways of doing things just won’t suffice. As both the consumer and worker, they believe heavily in sustainability, especially within agricultural and manufacturing processes. The demand for more sustainable practices has pressured alcohol brands to implement them into their daily operations, especially in the wholesale and producer tiers.

Respondents aged 22 to 30 over-indexed on almost every issue and trend that the survey listed, particularly around sustainable packaging (+5.7 percentage points) and climate change/severe weather (+5.29 percentage points).

But it’s not just sustainability they care about. They equally emphasize the importance of more beneficial workplace policies. This segment of respondents also over-indexed on every workplace policy that the survey listed when asked which ones mattered, especially on pay transparency (+20 percentage points), parental leave benefits (+15 percentage points) and diversity initiatives (+9 percentage points).

This is interesting when compared to issues that their older, more senior colleagues view as important. This segment under-index on consolidation or business mergers (-10 percentage points), international or domestic tax and tariff policies (-5 percentage points) and low-alcohol beverages (-2 percentage points) — but interestingly, they over-index on no-alcohol beverages by +2 percentage points, likely due to the rise in conscious consumption.

Why They Demand It

In the wake of the pandemic and recent social justice movements, Gen Zers and millennials see a world that’s ripe for change. Even more, they’re optimistic about a better, more equitable future and feel that they can help deliver it. 

According to the survey findings, most respondents do not have a positive outlook for career growth within the various industry tiers. However, that shifts with Gen Zers and young millennials, who indicate that they’re more optimistic about their future prospects, with more than half expressing positivity about career growth in their tier. 

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Strong workplace cultures and benefits are seen as crucial, part of what’s driving their optimism. Companies who are adopting these values and benefits are reaping the rewards, attracting top talent who are invested in their careers. According to Tom Wark, the executive director at the National Association of Wine Retailers in Sacramento, California, this issue is especially important to younger generations. 

“They have been convinced that they deserve not just a package of benefits and a decent salary, but they need to have self-care time,” Wark said in a recent interview with SevenFifty Daily. “They’re looking for a great deal more from their employers, including retailers, and employers have no choice but to provide it.”

What’s Next for Beverage Trade Workers? What’s Next for Beverage Trade Workers?

At the moment, the industry has a long way to go toward implementing more sustainable practices and an even longer way to go to evolving workplace policies for the good of employees. Demand for these topics will only continue to grow. As an industry, recognizing and meeting these demands will be paramount to drawing more employees into the trade and forging a better future for all aspects of the beverage industry. 

Corey Hines

Career bartender turned Content Marketing Manager at Provi, covering all things beer, wine and spirits.


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