In a word: convenience!
The USDA’s Economic Research Service has published a report that compares the food and food spending habits of Millennials with other generations. Using data from Information Resources, Inc.’s Consumer Network dataset, the report paints a picture of Millennials and food, a relationship which will shape the food industry in the decades to come.
Here were a few of the key findings:
- Millennials consume food in a restaurant or bar around 30 percent more often than any other generation. Millennials spend significantly less time eating at home than do any of the older generations.
- Among all generations, Millennials devote the smallest share of food expenditures to grains, white meat, and red meat. Though Millennials spend less on FAH (food-at-home) in total, they allocate more proportionately to prepared foods, pasta, and sugar/sweets than any other generation. Millennials have a stronger preference for fruits and vegetables compared to older generations.
- Millennials purchase more ready-to-eat foods; nearly two-thirds of Millennials reported buying some form of prepared food within the prior 7 days, suggesting a preference for time savings
- Millennials place more importance on convenience and experiential attributes. For example, Millennials shop more frequently at gas stations; use same-day delivery services; and are
more likely to buy organic food, hot sauce, energy drinks, and artisanal alcohol beverages.
- Millennials also maintain similar expenditure shares for prepared foods and allocate more of their food budgets to sugar and sweets as they become wealthier. They also spend less, proportionately, on grains than older generations and more on pasta.
- Millennial preferences for convenience may be a principal characteristic of the generation.
Are you surprised?
As a Millennial myself, I’m not. Our lives are steeped in technology and convenience. We crave more than the mundane, we want experiences and excitement. We want to optimize time with friends, connections, and our free time. We want to feel good about our purchases, even if they are easy. Convenience is key.
Food is no different.
Millennials crave convenience in their food and meal choices. Millennials want experiences connected with food and meal choices. Generally, I would add that Millennials want their food choices choices to be meaningful, which is related to the “experience.” This is a trend seen more in non-food retail. Millennials want to purchase from companies that have a story, not just products. For example, they prefer to purchase socks from a company that sells socks and donates to sock related charities, rather than just a company that sells socks.
These themes are likely the reason we see so many of the delivery meal-kit services, such as Hello Fresh and Blue Apron. These services allow young people to eat fresh, healthy food while minimizing the work that goes into it. To top it off, these meal-kits create the experience of preparing tasty foods from scratch. Commercials for these services usually show a young couple working together to create some spectacular dinner masterpiece. No doubt this is also why so many of the meal-kits boast about organic ingredients or helping farmers. The meal-kit services have found a way to create a product that services all Millennial pieces: convenience, experiences, and good feelings.
These themes also explain why Millennials are more apt to eat out. It combines convenience of eating out with the opportunity to experience something new and enjoy the company of friends. Hence the reason more trendy restaurants are offering more feel good options like “farm to table.”
Of course, no sector of food does “feel good” marketing better than organic. To me, the fact that Millennials are more likely to choose organic food over conventional is a sure sign this marketing is working, despite being so misleading. Millennials are more apt to purchase an organic product because it makes them feel like it is the healthier option. Millennials will buy an organic product because the farm and its products are perceived at being better. Millennials want to purchase the organic product because it speaks to the sense of experience; purchasing from a local farmer that makes you feel good. Of course, buying a package of organic cookies isn’t any healthier or better for the environment, but it makes you feel better about it.
While so many people are quick to dismiss Millennials as a fussy and soft generation, we have to remember that these are the future customers of food. Millennials are making choices about food purchases and their influence over the market will continue to grow over time. Where Millennials are willing to spend their dollars is precisely where the market will take us. That is why it is so important to find ways to talk to them about agricultural issues.
Honestly, I think the story of conventional agriculture is the Millennial dream, even if it isn’t quite as successful in marketing itself. We’re family farmers that have been around for generations. We care about our farms, including the soil and water, because we want to pass it along to our children. We take pride in growing affordable, quality produce. Supporting conventional agriculture supports all of those “feel good” concepts. Most importantly, the bounty of our crops is the reason we are even able to have such conveniences in food. Without it, food would be much more expensive.
Now, we just have to let the Millennials in on the secret.