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Are Millennials really so special? Or are they just acting their age?

millennials selfie

Anyone who was around in the ‘70s – or even the early ‘80s – often speaks wistfully of the days when airline travel retained a sense of dignity. Yet we often forget what it was like to live in a world without casual weekend trips to San Francisco just because. Taking a weekend jaunt is possible now, as airfare (adjusted for inflation) is about half what it was in 1980. 

Who better to take advantage of such affordable tickets than Millennials? They seek adventure, with about a quarter hoping to travel abroad and 21 percent wanting to experience other cultures. This is also the same generation that is skeptical of corporate claims, has strong convictions and wants to have a meaningful impact on the world. 

That sounds an awful lot like the Boomers we’ve come to know so well in the food business, no? 

Boomers may not look precisely like that now, but they sure did back when they were that age. Gosh knows they were skeptical of business. And imagine what would have happened if they woke up in 1971 to find that airfares had been cut in half? You bet they’d take the chance to travel around the world. 

All of this makes us wonder: What if what we think we know about Millennials may be explained simply by the effects of aging, as opposed to the unique psychological and cultural forces that generational marketers are fond of touting? Maybe there is something about being that age (late teens to early thirties) that makes folks skeptical of corporate claims, drawn to adventure eager to make their mark. 

As Millennials grow older and more of them are promoted to managerial positions, have kids and find themselves with households to maintain, perhaps they too will spend less time questioning product labels and wandering around the globe. 

Already, they have matured beyond their frivolous and sometimes flaky early years to embrace weightier issues – yet another generation confirming the George Bernard Shaw adage that “Youth is wasted on the young.” 


Our research finds that Millennials are less self-centered than the media portrays. The following chart depicts the issues most important to Millennials.  

five issues important to millennials

Millennials are gradually beginning to sound a bit more like their parents, and even their grandparents, which makes it worth considering whether our habit of thinking about generations in silos is too rigid. If we can fight the urge to believe that each generation is so wildly unique, we could learn more about what they want and what’s coming next. 

That’s why the Millennials you want to hire, those who separate themselves from their navel-gazing peers, are the ones who pause long enough to look up and think to themselves, “Old man look at my life, I’m a lot like you were.” 

Neil Young sure got that, which you would understand if you were a Boomer.


Consumer Demographics Culture Point Of View


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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