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Juice giant Welch’s makes a go for the adult beverage industry

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The phrase “Not now, Mama is drinking her special juice” just got a new meaning thanks to fruit cocktail empire Welch’s. 

This past spring, the brand known for its grape juice announced that it was ready to get tipsy. Partnering with Coop Beverage Works, the company unveiled a canned alcoholic line with a ABV of 5.9% in four different flavors. 

Juice is a staple of many childhoods, alongside peeing your pants and trying to eat crayons once or twice. And Welch’s ingrained itself into popular culture in the 1960s through ads with the Flintstones and once more in the 1990s with its iconic commercials. Now, these grape-guzzling kids have grown up and Welch’s is seemingly trying to do so as well — all along attempting to appeal to the everlasting pull of nostalgia. 

“We absolutely love that Welch’s takes so many people on a nostalgic trip down memory lane – nothing beats hearing that our bold, real fruit flavors ‘taste like their childhood,’” Chris Kwiat, vice president of transformational growth and communications at Welch’s, said in a statement to Fortune. 

The power of nostalgia

Companies aren’t often just touching a chord for the sake of it, as many of us are more likely to turn to our wallet when our heartstrings are pulled. A 2014 study published by the Journal of Consumer Research found that nostalgic marketing was particularly effective at encouraging “consumers to part with their money”—the emotion weakens one’s desire for cash in favor of social connectivity. And during times of distress, nostalgia is especially appealing.

“Today with all the turmoil, there’s so much that we’re unsure of,” Krystine Batcho, a professor at Le Moyne College who researches nostalgia, told Fortune in 2022 of the ripples of the pandemic and a volatile economy. “That is the perfect storm for nostalgia.” 

Years later, many Americans are still dealing with a similar set of problems and desire for escapism. Inflation, a trying job market, and socioeconomic pressure all create a feeling of pessimism regarding the future. While some Americans are cautiously optimistic, only 37% are hopeful about the country’s economic future, according to a recent KPMG study of 1,100 people. 

And it’s no shock that Welch’s is speaking to millennials. The infamously unlucky cohort might be extra vulnerable to nostalgia marketing right now due to their current life-stage, as their expectations clash with what the average person can currently afford. The especially vulnerable (and thus pessimistic) younger generations have turned to making little purchases as a way to salve the burn of financial malaise, or facing an uphill battle to building wealth. It’s an appeal to their inner child in part, at least in language. “Our economic prospects as a generation are so fucked that we may as well just live large to whatever degree we can afford,” one non-profit worker told Fortune in 2023. 

Companies are aware of this, as assistant professor in Media Studies at Western University, Selma A. Purac, notes that millennials and Gen Zers are currently prime targets because of their copious digital media use. Even Gen Zers born after the ‘90s speak of a nostalgia for the era, Stephaie Harlow wrote in a blog post for consumer insights company GWI. While all generations are nostalgic, these two younger ones lead the way right now. While 15% of Gen Zers and 14% of millennials prefer the past to the future, that sentiment decreases as generations age — according to GWI’s 2023 survey of more than 6,300 internet users. 

While invoking nostalgia, Welch’s didn’t want to settle for mocktails. “Even the classics need a glow-up,” said Kwiat. “We realized that while our heritage is rich, some folks see us as that big jug of grape juice just for kids.” 

Funnily enough, Welch’s was founded 150 years ago amidst the temperance movement when some churches needed a substitute for wine. Pasteurizing grape juice stopped it from fermenting, “posing the question to society: ‘Why drink wine when you can have grape juice?’” Kwiat quipped. 

“Fast forward to today, and here we are doing a bit of a 180,” he added. “Consumers have evolved, and since we put them at the center of everything we do, we evolved with them,” he said. Specifically, he said, the brand got inspiration from people drinking a grape juice cocktail called the Transfusion at golf clubs. 

It makes sense, then, that Welch’s is looking to enter the adult beverages market alongside these two generations. Of course, it comes with some complications. “We’re navigating the rise of sober culture among younger folks,” said Kwiat, referencing the trend where some younger adults are increasingly spurning alcohol in light of wellness culture and the rising cost of going out. “But we see it as an opportunity,” he notes. 

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