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When Millennials Get the Munchies: How They Differ from Previous Generations

millennials munchies

Millennials (we define as 16 to 30 years old) are already 58 million strong (depending on age cohorts used). No longer kids who are tuned in or out with technology, many are already adults with significant buying clout (comScore data estimates peg it at $170 billion annually). With this purchasing power, it is easy to grasp why so many companies and brands are eager to grab their sizable share of the prize. So, when Millennials get the munchies, what do they crave and what actions do they take to satisfy their hunger? Knowing the answers to these questions will help food marketers gather Millennials into the fold of loyal, or at least frequently returning, consumers.

Although our research shows Millennials are not drastically different from their predecessors, Generation X and Boomers, we have identified distinct variations in their food preferences and behaviors. They are influenced by closer, more sustained relationships with their parents, growing pains through life transitions, and household structure. Their generation spans a broad range of experiences: attending high school, going off to college, returning home to live with parents after college until finding a job (85 percent these days plan to1 ), living on one’s own with or without roommates or a partner, and starting a family. They are more likely to be living in post-modern, multigenerational or all adult households, where the stereotypical mom as “head purchaser” is noticeably absent.

Millennials participate in, influence and are influenced by the larger culture through technology and social media. They are the first generation to have used technology their entire lives as “digital natives,” and connect with friends, websites and food blogs to make food choices.

Common Values Influence Millennials across the Spectrum

Often represented by researchers and the media as well educated, well traveled, narcissistic and pampered by doting (“helicoptering”) parents, our research found them to be far more diverse on many levels. They represent many cultures and ethnicities, not all are college educated, some work in lower-paying jobs, and others may have been raised by single parents with little time or resources to helicopter or provide beyond the basic necessities.

In our 2011 report, The Culture of Millennials, we identified three values held across all cultural, economic and educational groups, and all distinguish them from previous generations:

  • They have greater self awareness and focus. This does not mean they are self-centered—rather, they want to understand and define their place in the world and what it means. They continually strive to “customize” everything in their lives, including themselves2
  • Millennials have a keen interest in travel; many are already as well traveled as their parents (whether globally or within the U. S. and Mexico, depending on income level)
  • Technology has been part of their daily lives since they can remember—they seek out information about the larger culture, including food culture, through multiple channels

Millennials Demonstrate Distinct Food Preferences and Behaviors


Millennials are more spontaneous and adventurous than previous generations in their interactions with food. They enjoy eating with others (we call it “commensality-style dining”), whether cooking at home or going to happy hour with friends, and report they feel less comfortable eating a meal alone (45% vs. 54% of older consumers). As the following chart illustrates, Millennials believe they consume healthier, more expensive, more natural/organic, less processed and better tasting foods and brands than their parents.

Source: The Culture of Millennials 2011 report, The Hartman Group, Inc.

They also are more likely than previous generations to:

  • Be gender neutral when it comes to the role of cooking (61% of females and 60% of males enjoy cooking)
  • Consider food an adventure and seek out different, ethnic and artisan foods (40% like to try new kinds of ethnic cuisines and “anything new and different,” compared to 34% and 32% respectively of GenX/Boomers combined)
  • Make spur of the moment food decisions and have less well-stocked pantries
  • Blend sauces and infuse flavors to customize new salad dressings and marinades
  • Boost energy with energy drinks (29% in the previous month compared to 15% of older adults)
  • Trend towards more meatless eating, with 6% identifying as faithful vegetarians, compared to 5% of GenX/Boomers combined. And, 12% report often going vegetarian, compared to 10% of Gen X and 5% of Boomers
  • Purchase frozen and pre-packaged foods they consider healthy, adding additional seasonings and fresh ingredients
  • Read product labels for calories and sugar amount but not overall nutritional value—they often make decisions based on gut feelings about the healthiness of the product
  • Identify less with brands, unless a brand enhances their own image (e.g., local groceries, electronics, personal care products)



Relating with Millennial consumers requires food companies to act with integrity and actively seek out their opinions and preferences before embarking on new product development or marketing strategies. Millennials will value companies that seek their input and stand behind their products. They want to create new trends and identify unique ways to eat and prepare food.

Wanting to be seen as serious consumers, Millennials prefer marketing campaigns that are whimsical and engaging, not serious or stodgy. Savvy with social media, they will be turned off by novice efforts by companies to communicate via these channels and are likely to lead the way in shopping via smart phone.

For more information about Millennials, brand preferences and household structure, please refer to the following issues of HartBeat:

Millennials’ Brand Preferences Shift Due to Household Structure

“Modern Family”: The Real Story of the American Family or Why TV Gets It

1Boomerang kids: 85% of college grads move home, CNN Money, November 15, 2012:

2Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage Generation Y. 2009. Bruce Tulgan. Jossey-Bass, a Wiley Imprint, San Francisco.


Consumer Demographics Food & Beverage Occasions Culture


As leaders in the study of American food culture, The Hartman Group has been tracking how Americans shop for food since the 1990s. From one-stop shopping to multichannel shopping to online markets and click-and-collect, we continue to track consumers’ evolving perceptions, needs, habits and relationships with food retailers. New to the 2017 report is a special section on the expansion of the discount grocery channel, the emerging fresh-format channel and smaller-footprint retail formats.


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