This Wine Brand Was Born on Instagram and Is Thriving During COVID

Aug 11 2020

Are Millennials really a problem for the wine industry? Not according to the brand who knows just how to get their attention…

By all reports, Millennials have been flummoxing the wine industry. Recently, a Napa Valley grape grower blamed Millennials’“lack of participation” in the wine industry for slowing sales. From their preference for unpretentious brands and packaging to their continuing sobriety shift, the generation has been challenging and changing things for bev/alc brands—and wine is no exception. 

But that’s not the whole story. For years, YPulse has found that wines top the list of Millennials’ favorite alcohol brands. When we asked what they couldn’t live without during quarantine, wine made the ranking. In fact, some wine brands are thriving thanks to Millennial drinkers. It’s just that, as we’ve said for some time, they just don’t drink the same wine their Boomer parents did. According to Silicon Valley Bank’s wine industry report, Millennials make up just 17% of the fine wine market, and their wine budget is on average $8-$12 a bottle. They’ve also made boxed and canned wines a growing business, with YPulse data showing that two in five 21+ Millennials believe that canned wine is as good as bottled wine, For brands that tailor their products to fit these preferences, Millennials are a prime market. 

BABE wine is one of those brands. Following “the infamous South Hampton rosé shortage,” Josh Ostrovsky and brothers Tanner and David Oliver Cohen launched Swish Beverages in 2015 with their first product: White Girl Rosé. A year later, BABE Rosé was born followed by BABE Grigo and Babe Red Wine in 2018. Since their conception, the brand has been known for its playful and relatable language across its social channels, its merch that includes hats, leggings, and pool floats, and overall for making wine, well, more fun (after all, according to their site: “Wine used to be soooo boring”)

During the pandemic, they’ve proven with their “mani truck” and breakup moving trucks that experience marketing can coexist with social distancing as long as the right protocols are in place. 

We spoke to BABE’s General Manager Chelsea Phillips about how they’re appealing to Millennials, how COVID-19 has impacted their brand, the rise of ecommerce, the vital role that social media plays for them, why merch is an important part of reaching young consumers, and more: 

YPulse: How has COVID-19 impacted your brand?

Chelsea Phillips: BABE was born on Instagram so we’re no stranger to digitally connecting with people. In the current climate, we’ve stayed true to our voice and continue to challenge ourselves to make content that is worthy of people’s attention and encourages them to try BABE, whether that’s in-store or via ecomm.

For example, at the start of the pandemic when people most deserved wine, BABE immediately jumped into action and gave away $1 million worth of wine [on Instagram], and we ran out in under 21 hours. More recently, we offered face masks for redemption at drinkbabe.net through a direct mailer and again, completely ran out within a 24 hour period. 

YPulse: Are you seeing an ecommerce increase because of the pandemic?

CP: Over the last several months, ecommerce went from important to critical, as behavior shifted to shopping for food and bev from home. While alcohol brands in general are playing catch up with this trend, BABE has been selling directly on its ecommerce site since its inception. Compared to this time last year, we’ve seen a 182% uptick in web traffic and a 7.6x increase in wine sales on drinkbabe.net.

YPulse: We’re seeing a lot of headlines about how young consumers are ordering and drinking more alcohol during the pandemic. Is this a trend you see continuing even post-pandemic? 

CP: It’s certainly hard to predict what the future will look like these days, but we’re at least hopeful that canned wine will continue to thrive post-pandemic. As far as BABE goes, we’re focused on navigating the new normal and finding fun, innovative ways to connect with people. 

YPulse: Do you think Millennials have changed the wine industry? 

CP: Millennials have definitely helped evolve the wine industry. Wine is traditionally boring, stuffy, hard to understand and often expensive. None of those things are super appealing to our generation. 

YPulse: Why do you think canned wine is appealing to young drinkers? 

CP: From the beginning, our founders, Josh “The Fat Jewish” Ostrovsky and brothers David (“DOC”) and Tanner Cohen, spoke to their followers and it became obvious that they wanted a wine that could be carried around with them, the same they would with a beer. That’s why we decided to launch canned wine. After the success of BABE Rosé, we later introduced two more flavors: Grigio and my personal favorite, Red. 

Canned wine also appeals to a younger audience who wants to have a cute can that they can take anywhere and show off on Instagram, which they can’t do as much with a traditional wine bottle. 

YPulse: What trends do you believe will be lasting for your industry as opposed to short-lived?

CP: The rise of ecommerce is a trend that appears to be long-lasting. People have gotten used to the convenience of online purchases and having items shipped directly to their homes, which is something that’s become especially prevalent due to the pandemic. With BABE, this is a trend we addressed early on and will continue to provide as a convenient option for our drinkers in addition to offering in-store purchases

YPulse: How popular is your merch, and how much of a focus is merch for BABE? 

CP: People have always loved BABE merch, as the collections are developed directly with them in mind and the designs come from conversations with our followers. For example, at the start of the pandemic, everyone was obsessed with tie dye, so we released a Tie Dye Kit [inspired by each of our drinks] that came with a branded hoodie, bike shorts, and socks for them to tie dye from their home.

For us, merch is a way to hook people up with items they want, and for us to get the data that makes us smarter. Plus, there is no better out-of-home advertising than someone choosing to wear your brand. 

YPulse: What role does merch play for brands when trying to reach young consumers today?

CP: Merch can be a great tool to drive exposure for your brand and start conversations with new people, providing them with items they really want outside of just your product. It directly associates your brand and product with current trends.

For example, we released a “Cancel 2020” hat at the start of the pandemic, which has done really well and opened the line of communication with both old and new drinkers because we can all agree that 2020 has not been the year we all imagined. What’s even better is that with each hat purchased, BABE donated five meals to the Food Bank For New York City.

YPulse: What is your overall social media approach when trying to reach and appeal to Millennials? 

CP: BABE is a brand founded on digital and social media engagement, which remains at the core of our business. We are very active in listening to our followers, which will always be critical to our success. Josh says all the time that he reads every DM and every comment. There’s no better way to understand what people want or how they’re feeling than that. 

YPulse: How do you balance memes, lifestyle, and promotional content? Is there a good formula you follow for content mix? 

CP: We use social as a way to connect with our BABE community through human dialogue. As a result, we don’t have a strict formula that we follow. Instead, we think about what we, as people, would want to see or talk about it. We may plan on posting something, but if conversation shifts, we will shift with it. Flexibility is key.

YPulse: BABE saw success both in-person and on social media with its recent socially distanced “mani truck.” How did the idea for it come about?

CP: At the time, it had been months since any of us had gotten our nails done in a salon, so Josh thought the world neededdeserveda socially distanced manicure truck. Throughout quarantine, BABE has been all about making people feel good, and the “mani truck” allowed us to accomplish that in a fun and unexpected yet safe way.

YPulse: What were some of the challenges of trying to engineer a safe social distance marketing experience?

CP: The actual design came together pretty seamlessly. We followed all local guidelines to make sure it was as safe as possible for everyone involved. This started with the design of the truck, which featured plexiglass all around. The manicurists for the day were also provided PPE like BABE-branded face masks and gloves. We also ensured there were six feet of distance between everyone in line and made sure that everyone was wearing a mask.

YPulse: What marketing have you found is most appealing to young consumers during this time?  

CP: All of our ideas are meant to be fun, and I think people can feel that in our work. We’re happy when people want to share something we put out with a friend. The pandemic in particular has presented the opportunity for us to be creative with our marketing and social media efforts, a challenge our awesome team has remained enthusiastic about. 

We’re also so excited for our recent partnership with [dating app] Bumble to turn people’s break ups into “glow ups.” BABE is and always is about maximizing fun, which we can all agree is hard to do if you’re living with your ex especially in the middle of a pandemic.