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:
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:
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:
1Boomerang kids: 85% of college grads move home, CNN Money, November 15, 2012: http://money.cnn.com/2010/10/14/pf/boomerang_kids_move_home/index.htm
2Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage Generation Y. 2009. Bruce Tulgan. Jossey-Bass, a Wiley Imprint, San Francisco.
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.