It’s hard to talk about trends without mentioning millennials.
This week, world leaders in food science and technology gathered at the IFT’s annual meeting and food expo in New Orleans to learn about industry trends and scientific development. Focusing on millennial consumers, three R&D professionals talked about how this generation will lead the way in food innovation. Below are four things food companies need to know about millennials.
Who they are
Heidi Curry of Dunkin’ Brands listed three key characteristics of millennials that her company focuses on when developing products for millennials: They are tech and food savvy, as well as environmentally aware when making their food purchasing decisions.
Those in the millennial generation were born between the years of 1980 to 2000; a wide range that Dominique Vitry of Pizza Hut says can make product development difficult, as it covers a broad amount of consumers in various stages of their lives. But, despite this challenge, they are not to be ignored: According to Pew Research Center, an estimated 64 million millennials will be shopping the marketplace by 2020, making up roughly 50% of the US workforce.
What they value
According to Christian Hallowell of Delta’s food service program, millennials are very interested in their total experience with a brand. This involves having a high “connectivity” with the foods that they are eating, whether it’s through an endorsement by one of their favorite celebrity chefs or a chance to semi-customize the final product.
All three speakers agreed that millennials tend to eat a higher amount of smaller meals throughout the day, perhaps leading to the rise of snack food options on menus and in the grocery isle. But Vitry was quick to point out that this preference might change when they share meals like breakfast and dinner with their families. Tagging these consumers as “fam-llennials,” Vitry says that millennials are looking for customizable options to feed both themselves and their families.
Don’t be afraid of their advice
When developing products for the millennial generation, all three companies seek out help from the direct source. Employing millennials lets R & D departments gain key insight into this coveted generation, as, according to Vitry, they are more than happy to give advice—even if it goes against the status quo of the company they work for. Vitry gave an example of one of her millennial food scientists approaching her with a unique complaint:
“I think I can just write an app to do my job. Can I do that?”
“Ya, and I’ll work on finding you something else to do.”
This fearlessness gives companies a fresh look at sometimes-outdated processes that may have otherwise gone unnoticed (and unchanged).
Millennials’ willingness to give advice has its downfalls though, especially when they take to social media. When a food company can’t deliver desirable trends—gluten free, 100% organic, etc.—fast enough, they’re quick to write off the brand all together, sometimes with a tweet or Facebook post.
“They don’t seem to understand what impact a tweet may have on a company,” says Curry, “They may want instant change, but that may not be possible.”
Their experience is more than the food
When millennials are making their purchasing decisions, they are considering a range of factors far beyond just the taste of a product. One of these factors is transparency, whether that’s with foods’ ingredients or the motivation behind a new product launch. Many millennials are hyper-aware of the ingredients listed on food labels, and would like to know the practices used in manufacturing and processing the final product. Every food, from a snack to an airline meal, is now expected to have proper labeling, including allergen information.
Millennials also have a tendency to be less nostalgic when eating. “You want to bring product familiarity, with a twist,” says Curry, when talking about developing new foods for a company. Vitry agrees, stating that Pizza Hut aims to reinvent the brand to maintain a “new” experience for the customer, while still offering the company’s classic dishes.
“Think about Nike, nobody wants to wear the tennis shoes that came out in 1985,” says Vitry, “You want to wear the ones that came out recently, because of the technology and innovation they bring to your life.”
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