For the past few years, millennials have been accused of killing a number of things from napkins to motorcycles to homeownership to marriage and divorce.
And also food, at least in some categories. We can add to that list beer, cereal, American cheese, and canned tuna among others.
It matters what and how millennials eat because that demographic – people ages 23 to 38 (the range can vary slightly) – is projected to overtake the Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation this year.
“I don’t like to think of it as millennials are killing a thing,“ said Beth Bloom, market research firm Mintel’s associate director of U.S. food and drink. “It’s really just their preferences are shifting. Some subcategories that don’t deliver on those preferences might not be performing as well.”
Manuel Quiros, 32, who lives in Detroit, Michigan, said he thinks it is “kind of ridiculous” to say millennials are killing things. “We just don’t want to pay for things that aren’t good that maybe our parents like other generations didn’t find or didn’t know,” he said.
Facing significantly more choices than previous generations, millennials may not stick to long-standing categories or brands their parents used to buy, experts said.
“They’re open to those new and unique brands,” said Simon Gunzburg, an analyst at market research firm Euromonitor International. “They want to purchase brands that better align with their own values, whether it be their dietary nutrition preferences, sustainability, philanthropy, etc.”
With challenges to satisfy the younger generations, major food brands across categories are studying millennials’ eating habits and trying to meet their needs by diversifying product offerings.
They consider themselves ‘foodies’ and see eating as an experience
Compared with other generations, millennials are more engaged with food, Bloom said. According to a report published by Mintel in May, 58% of the millennials surveyed consider themselves a “foodie” and 57% think planning meals takes more time than they would prefer – they tend to eat out more.
“Food is kind of a social thing for them. It brings them joy,” Bloom said. “They’re more likely to look for products and brands that kind of represent them. So food is an expression,” she added.
Take beer, for example. In 2018, overall U.S. beer sales went down 1%, but craft brewer sales grow at a rate of 4%, according to the trade group Brewers Association. Beer produced by small and independent brewers particularly appeals to millennials as they communicate some stories or quality that “millennials could say, oh, this brand represents me,” Bloom said.
“Just the experience of trying craft beers or going to a brewery or trying a beer from a certain place added that additional value of having that being an experience for millennials,” she said.
They want healthy food…and a bit of indulgence.
Millennials tend to be more health-conscious – half of the demographic believes they eat healthier than the average, according to Mintel’s survey. Over 60% of millennials surveyed think their generation is more focused on health than any other generation.
But instead of focusing just on low-fat or low-calorie products, this generation has a holistic view toward health, Bloom said. They tend to favor foods with fewer artificial ingredients and that are less processed. “It’s OK for something to have fat. It just needs to be kind of whole ingredients,” she said.
This preference hasn’t been lost on major food brands, which, in response, have launched health-focused products. The Kraft Heinz Company in 2014, for instance, removed artificial preservatives in Kraft Singles, a sliced cheese product packaged individually. General Mills launched in 2017 French yogurt Oui by Yoplait with non-GMO ingredients and or no artificial flavors. The product brought more than $100 million in first-year retail sales to the company, according to Bridget Christenson, a General Mills spokesperson.
Sun-Maid, the raisin company with more than 100 years of history, is trying to address and eliminate a misconception that has haunted their product for years, one that the makes raisins less attractive to millennials especially. “They (some consumers) think raisins have added sugar, which is completely not true,” said the company’s CEO Harry Overly.
The sweetness in raisins come solely from grapes, which are dried under the sun, Overly said. “There’s nothing different in a box of Sun-Maid raisins than if you took a bunch of fresh green grapes.”
But health was not the only focus for millennials. Companies are also developing products that are somewhat indulgent. Last year, to that end, General Mills introduced Oui Petites, a smaller-size yogurt that features indulgent flavors such as sea salt caramel and dark chocolate raspberry. Sun-Maid has launched yogurt- and chocolate-covered raisin snacks.
Though consumers are looking for the natural, clean products, they still want to indulge, said Euromonitor analyst Gunzburg. “I think that the difference is that it’s a more conscious indulgence. It’s not indulging all the time.” He noted that among most offerings, the indulgence bits are “portion-controlled.”
They snack more, and want to eat on the go
For busy millennials, convenience matters. They snack more often, are less likely to stick to three meals a day, and tend to eat meals on the go, said Gunzburg.
“It depends on how busy the workday is. But from my experience and everyone around me, we probably skip at least one meal maybe at least,” said Quiros.
So brands have responded by developing products in small, portable packages. Sun-Maid has introduced sour raisin snacks in flavors like mixed berry and watermelon – a kind of “healthier alternative” to Sour Patch Kids, according to Overly.
And though the sales of canned tuna went down, tuna brand StarKist has seen a resurgence of its products sold in pouches without draining.
From 2013 to December 2018, the overall sales in the U.S. of 5-ounce and 12-ounce canned tuna declined 15% by volume to $1,038 million, according to marketing research firm Nelson. In contrast, the sales of pouch tuna has jumped 62.2% to $354 million during the same period.
Beside pouch tuna, StarKist also offers salmon and chicken pouches, some in bold flavors including Buffalo Style, Jalapeno, Sriracha, Spicy Korean Style with Gochujang, and Red Curry with Coconut. “This way people can get their protein wherever they are – in the car, at the office, or between kid’s activities,” said Andy Mecs, vice president of StarKist’s marketing and innovation.
Brands have to find “the sweet spot” among millennials’ multiple preferences, so marketing to the demographic could be tough, Bloom said. “Some products that are packaged for time savings aren’t necessarily delivering on health.”
Products should not be too expensive, as millennials care about cost-saving, Bloom said. But they don’t have to be the cheapest, she added, as long as the products “represent a value.”
Follow Frances Yue on Twitter: @FrancesYue_.