Five lessons as millennials mature and evolve

With so much of the industry shifting its attention to Gen Z, you might think that millennials have fallen out of favor as the “it” demographic. Yet millennials, defined as those consumers born between 1982 and 1996, became the largest generation in the US last year, overtaking baby boomers for the first time. And while many still picture a teenager when they hear “millennial,” even the youngest members of this generation are decidedly adults -- at age 21, they are graduating college and entering the workforce, while the oldest members, topping out at 35, have been working for over a decade. Today’s millennials are also becoming parents and raising families -- millennials now account for the vast majority of women giving birth in the US, according to the Pew Research Center.

But they are also waiting longer than previous generations to have children, partly due to finances – many millennials are struggling with massive student loan debt, high rents and stagnant wages. The differences within this generation can be striking -- were you the same person at age 21 compared to age 35? And those differences that arise as this generation moves through the various life stages -- single or married, children or no children -- impact their food preferences and purchases. How? To find out, Datassential surveyed 1016 millennial consumers for our upcoming "Keynote report: The growing differences among millennial consumers." We not only uncover how the subgroups within this generation think and behave differently, but we also dive into how millennials differ from the population overall. Here are five early findings:

  1. Millennials are eating out and ordering in. Wherever they enjoy their meals, millennials are certainly more willing than the general population to let someone else do the cooking. Not only are they more likely to eat out, but they are also far more likely to have food delivered -- in fact, they are more than twice as likely to have food delivered from nearly every away-from-home delivery option.
  2. Millennials love lunch. For the overall population, their last meal out was most likely at dinner, but for millennials their last meal out was most likely lunch, which may not be surprising for a generation that grew up on fast casuals.
  3. Millennials are looking for new supermarket experiences. Millennials are not only more likely than the overall population to shop at specialty retailers like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, but millennials are also willing to consider a wider range of options for their grocery needs. They are far more likely than the general population to purchase groceries from a convenience store (over a quarter have in the past month), and they are much more likely to have purchased groceries online (nearly 30% have). 
  4. Millennials are using some fancy prep methods. Millennials are comparatively less likely than the general population to bake or microwave their food, while they are more likely to poach, braise or steam their meals. Meal kit delivery services have been particularly focused on targeting customers who are looking for ways to upgrade their cooking skills.
  5. Millennials want an app for that. While the total population vastly prefers wait-staff to take their orders and bring food, millennials are far more interested than the general population in ordering ahead and picking food up via an app and using ordering kiosks.

It’s clear that changes in the industry are impacting millennials’ preferences and choices. The supermarket prepared foods section, for instance, has radically evolved in recent years and now many of them resemble mini (and even not-so-mini) food halls. Millennials are responding -- they are nearly twice as likely as the general population to stop at the prepared foods section every time they shop.

This is just a small sample of the findings we’ve uncovered for this upcoming report, which will include both at-home and away-from-home opinions and behaviors, uncovering how millennials differ from each other and the overall population. These insights don’t just impact the millennial generation -- the millennial preference for ordering apps, for instance, increases the availability of technology options for all demographic groups. In fact, we’ll be exploring these other groups, too -- this keynote report is the first in our four-part series that will cover Gen Z, baby boomers, and Gen X.   

Mike Kostyo is the senior publications manager at Datassential, a supplier of trends, analysis and concept testing for the food industry. To purchase the "MenuTrends Keynote Report: The Growing Differences Among Millennial Consumers" mentioned in this article, contact Datassential Business Development Manager Susan Cohen at susan.cohen@datassential.com.

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