In the past, gourmet cuisine came with a kind of exclusivity; diners with taste buds refined enough to appreciate exotic ingredients, and elaborate preparations were few and far between. Now, foodie culture is becoming more and more mainstream—and accessible to the masses. Millennials value authenticity, freshness, quality, and innovation, and they’re coming to expect these traits not only in their upscale, night-out restaurant selections, but in their fast-casual dining establishments as well.
Millennials are interested in healthy options, but their conceptualization of what health means goes far beyond the fat- and calorie-counts of the past. Millennials aren’t looking for diet food—they want fresh, authentic, high-quality ingredients. They’re also well-informed about where food comes from and what goes into making it. Millennial customers covet transparency when it comes to the food they consume; they want to know how the pork was raised, what the chickens were fed, on which farm the vegetables were grown. Establishments with a murky preparation process and questionable ingredients just aren’t cutting it in Millennials’ eyes.
Cost vs. value
Low prices are also not the draw they once were. Millennial consumers are often willing to pay a higher cost for the promise of fresh, high quality ingredients and creative artisanal recipes. While younger Millennials don’t typically have a lot of money, they tend to consider good food a purchase that’s worth a little extra expense. Research shows that food and dining rank above clothes, shoes and electronics as products/services that Millennials are willing to splurge on. Franchises that boast cheap meals as one of their main attributes are finding it less effective as a customer incentive.
Personality on a plate
Customization represents a huge feature of Millennial dining. Millennials are incredibly knowledgeable about food. They understand different ingredients and preparations, and they aren’t willing to settle for something they know could be better. Customizable products allow for consumers to get exactly what they want to eat without having to compromise; an option that Millennials, who value their food experience so highly, really enjoy. Millennials’ identities are also hugely dependent on setting themselves apart from the crowd. They love to be different from everyone else, and they use food as an avenue to express their own unique personalities. The ability to customize their food to their exact tastes gives the feeling of a dining experience that is personal and representative of their individuality, instead of mass-produced. Millennials know themselves and they know what they want, and they want the food they eat to reflect that.
A generational grocery gap
These trends are not only showing up in the restaurant sphere. Millennials are also changing the culture surrounding grocery shopping. Convenience and efficiency were (and are) key features of grocery shopping for the Baby Boomer generation. Now, a focus on interesting, high-quality ingredients takes priority for Millennials. They’re willing to sacrifice some convenience for quality. Millennials also have less of a sense of brand loyalty than generations before them. They have a large base of knowledge about different recipes and ingredients, and they aren’t afraid to visit multiple locations or even order online to find what they want. Processed food is out, and while low prices can still be a valuable commodity for Millennials, certain qualities in food that pique their interest—organic, natural, artisan, etc. —often warrant a splurge. Millennials’ foodie tendencies also stretch outside the confines of restaurants and food trucks and follow them home into their own kitchens. Interest in preparing fresh, exciting, and often complex meals from scratch means that Millennials are more likely to plan the day’s shopping around a specific recipe. More frequent grocery trips with fewer purchases are becoming commonplace, as opposed to the weekly bulk shopping more typical of Baby Boomers.
Millennials are approaching food in a different way than ever before, which means a huge shift in the way food brands are choosing to market their products to this generation. In the next installment of this blog series, we’ll talk about which brands are excelling in their quest to connect with Millennials and which brands are struggling with the changes in the cultural milieu.
Read more: Millennials trade hot dogs for haute cuisine and Some brands struggle, others shine in the face of a new food culture.