Once upon a time, the Baby Boomer generation was the biggest trend driver in the U.S. The tides are quickly turning as Millennials rapidly surpass them in population size, recently clocking in at a robust 83.1 million and representing a quarter of the U.S. population.
According to the latest U.S. Census report, Millennials have officially knocked the 75.4 million Boomers off their long-held and influential spot as the arbiters of food culture.
Now, Millennials are crafting a food culture all their own. But how is the culture evolving, what are they eating, and are those preferences shaping the food industry in response? That’s what we aim to unpack in this post.
It’s A Wired World
The word ‘millennial’ is almost inextricably linked with the internet. Understanding this relationship offers a key piece of context about their relation to food – the origin of this unprecedented shift in food culture was unquestionably birthed online.
Millennials began with a nutritional foundation modeled by parents, then broadened their exposure to the philosophies of healthy diets throughout their years in school. Today, they solidify their dietary understandings by mining information online, then breaking out into their own conversations and making discoveries about food through social networks and popular media channels.
As a wired and interconnected generation, they have unlimited access to best practices and idea sharing — literally at their fingertips. This connected lifestyle affords them instant exploration and immediate exposure to new ideas as they direct their own habits and preferences in the wake of a more holistic understanding of health and nutrition. As they find new ways of being, they’re quick to share among their peers.
While Internet usage is high among all generations, it has become a constant for the younger age groups. The use of mobile phones and tablets reinforces this ubiquitous connectedness, and these constants create a revolving door of information on any topic. It also facilitates seamless communication with social networks, professional networks, and even parents.
What do MILLENNIALS eat?
So what eating habits are emerging as a result of this information overflow? In short, it’s back to basics with tried and true nutritional principles at the helm.
Most importantly, the less processed the better. Millennials are closely reviewing ingredient statements on packaging. The more additives they see, the more likely they are to pass on a product. Simple and recognizable is the name of the game. Same goes for meats—with clean, natural practices and transparency leading the charge.
More than half of millennials make it a nightly routine to cook with fresh ingredients and seek out foods that are natural, non-GMO and locally grown. The vast majority also love protein, making it a priority and mealtimes and cutting calories, sugar, fats and artificial ingredients whenever possible.
When they set out in search of provisions, they’re specifically on the hunt for whole grains and fresh, natural foods with simple, recognizable ingredients. And while the large majority specifies they prefer American cuisine, other familiar ethnic foods featuring Asian, Tex-Mex, Italian and Middle Eastern flavors also make the cut.
This same nutritional focus is also demonstrated by the rise in popularity of salty and fruity snacks. Millennials with children report increased and more varied snacking across the board.
Today’s health-conscious buyers are taking a vested interest in their well-being, starting with what they’re putting in their bodies. Answering these needs and delivering on emerging food trends is likely to create a broad appeal and keep companies well positioned to respond to the consumer demands driven by millennials.
The message is clear: the food industry needs to accommodate this new normal, or get left behind.
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