Younger Generations Are Changing How We Eat

Not exactly a profound headline but something we, as food professionals, need to consider. As communicators we need to understand how the habits and lifestyles of different generations will impact our work. We can look back through history to see how generations have changed the food we eat. Remember the “clean plate club”? You’re dating yourself if you do. I know because I remember it.

Yet, today’s young adults (between 17 and 37), whether you call them Millennials, Generation X, Y, Z or some other name, seem to be making seismic shifts in how we eat. Consider these points made by Menu Matters’ Maeve Webster late last year:

  • Nearly 75 percent want to know more about how their food was made and about the company that made it. 59 percent will stop purchasing a brand if they deem the company unethical.

  • They grocery shop more frequently than previous generations so they can get fresher local foods. They prefer to buy from smaller “mom and pop” companies.

So, why should you care? Because, quite simply, they are the future and represent 25 percent of the US population. Eighty percent of babies born in 2018 will be born to this generation. According to Forbes, they represented more than $200 billion in buying power in 2017 and will surpass all other generations this year. They like to buy small and aren’t afraid to take on the “big guys.” In fact, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune, 43 percent distrust large food manufacturers. That spells trouble for the likes of General Mills, PepsiCo, Kraft Foods and Heinz.

Younger consumers want to have a relationship with their food, and the companies that make it. The larger the company the harder the struggle to connect because stories need to be local and resonate.

The growth in food trucks and pop-up restaurants, grocerants and other micro stores is attributed to the patronage of young people who enjoy experimenting with quality food they believe is created near them. Their requirements are giving new life to “food courts” offering unique dishes created with more localized ingredients, and also to shopping experiences that take customers to different locations to purchase locally-branded ingredients.

Opportunities for food companies and restaurateurs:

  • Think quality

  • Always local

  • Packaged for quick use

  • Easy to order

  • Fast delivery without sacrificing quality

Many of these young people aren’t afraid to experiment with unfamiliar ingredients if they trust the supplier. Goodbye frozen dinners and hello to fresh meals in boxes assembled at home. Food companies need to create an experience for the customer, both in your location and where it might be consumed.

Also, when this generation thinks about healthy eating, they’re more likely to consider how it was grown and whether it’s organic and local. Often, this is at the expense of low-calorie, fat or carbohydrates. In fact, low isn’t important, but local is. So is what’s perceived as “clean.” No more additives or preservatives because many of the younger generation purchase their food for consumption that day. They want it pure and local. Did I mention local? In fact, they equate clean with healthy and lots of flavor.

Finally, sharing (and especially on social media) is an integral part of their lives. In fact, the Internet is where they get information about where and what to eat. Word of mouth and their friends are most influential to them, often to a fault, as it may not be a good idea to trust your friend for health and nutrition data. It’s the wave of the future, so it’s certainly time to get on board.

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The Barber Group

Gig Harbor, Washington


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