This generation has brought about a major challenge in food marketing. Millennials highly value fresh food, exotic ingredients, customizable products, etc., but they also place a lot of stock in authenticity. A brand that has to completely reinvent itself to be more Millennial-focused can be perceived as inauthentic. Marketing to this generation is balancing act between evolving with the times and still maintaining the core values behind the brand. Brands are working overtime to find harmony between adding more millennial-friendly features and staying true to their original image to promote authenticity.
Chipotle is an example of a brand that’s taking the Millennial world by storm with the one-two punch of fresh, high-quality food and strong brand authenticity. Their motto, “Food with Integrity,” perfectly encapsulates the mindset of this generation, and their fresh, exciting ingredients and customizable products are exactly what Millennials crave. And Chipotle doesn’t just talk the talk— the brand is devoted to its commitment of serving responsibly raised food. Chipotle made headlines in January for pulling shredded pork as a meat option in over 600 of their restaurants after their pork suppliers failed to live up to their standards. Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold commented on the situation, saying, “We would rather not serve pork at all, than serve pork from animals that are raised in [inhumane conditions].” Not only is this focus on responsible food production of great importance to Millennials, they also value Chipotle’s dedication to its brand promises. The fact that Chipotle would take a monetary loss as opposed to going against the ethical practices they stand for displays an authenticity that Millennials trust and relate to.
Taco Bell is one brand that takes a slightly different approach; the brand achieves its success among Millennials not by focusing on the fresh, organic, artisan food trends, but instead by devoting themselves solely to brand authenticity. It’s common knowledge that the chain doesn’t serve healthy, fresh, or authentic Mexican food; they have a hard-earned reputation as a late night guilty pleasure, perfect when you only have 89 cents in your pocket and you’ve got a craving for some artificial cheese. Instead of warping this existing brand image to keep up with modern Millennial trends, Taco Bell has fully embraced its “so bad, it’s good” status by going even further over the top, adding menu items like Dorito-shelled tacos and Cap’n Crunch donut holes. These products may not fit into the artisanal, organic foodie fads, but Millennials value the genuine approach of the brand (and choose Taco Bell as their prime spot for junk food cravings).
Long-standing fast food giant McDonald’s, however, is hurting with the arrival of a new food culture. This new face of fast food is decidedly not McDonald’s brand; the chain offers classically All-American fast food, much of it deep-fried en masse and left to sit under a heat lamp. While this has been long beloved by Americans (and let’s face it, we all still love a greasy, delicious Big Mac and fries), that’s not what’s hot right now. Additionally, the chain can’t seem to make up their mind about whether they want to embrace or reject foodie culture. McDonald’s recently created the “Unapologetic Big Mac” spot, a cheeky jab at “trendy” ingredients that celebrates the Big Mac for its good, old-fashioned deliciousness. However, they also introduced the new “Artisan” Grilled Chicken Sandwich, emphasizing fresh vegetables and herbs, preservative-free chicken breast “seared in [their] kitchens,” and a vinaigrette dressing, all atop an “artisan” roll. Their food isn’t getting Millennials excited, and their inability to really decide on and stick to a brand image is also a turn-off for modern diners. And it shows in the sales—McDonald’s profits have been dropping.
What do you think? Should food brands be sticking to their roots, or renovating their image in order to attract a new generation of consumers?
Want more on this topic? Check out Millennials trade hot dogs for haute cuisine and Millennials force the food industry to face the facts.