Appetite for change: Examining the millennial mindset

by Charlotte Atchley, Nico Roesler, Anna Wiber
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While millennial consumers are looking for fresher and healthier foods and snacks, this generation of shoppers aren’t all the same.

For the past few years, there has been a lot of talk about millennials — how they work, how they spend their money, how they eat — and how their habits, for better or for worse, are changing society. The baking and snack industries are no exception. It seems like at every conference or industry meeting, there’s at least one session or a keynote speech about the millennial mindset. And we, the millennials editors of Baking & Snack, have been here, listening to everyone talk about us like we aren’t in the room.

Well, we monitor the data and the trends, and we like to think it’s a bit more nuanced than stark numbers suggest. When it comes to food, it is no secret millennials are opinionated, and if you want our money, it’s in your best interest to pay attention too.


More bang for the buck
Millennials as a generation are a force to be reckoned with. With 83.1 million people in the United States classified as millennials by the U.S. Census Bureau, this generation makes up a fourth of the country’s population. In 2018, the projected income of millennials will be about $3.39 trillion annually, blowing past baby boomers.

“They’re not all broke, unemployed and living in their parent’s basement collecting participation trophies,” said Jeff Fromm, co-author of “Marketing to Millennials” and partner at Kansas City-based advertising agency Barkley. “They’re starting families. Many of the trends we see start from more affluent millennials.”

Despite this power, millennials can be picky about how they spend their money. Saddled with student debt and coming of age during a recession, millennials want their purchases to reflect their values. They have equated dollars with democracy … and vote with the almighty dollar.

It’s not just consumers with allergies that are worried about what’s in their snacks, many are looking for simple ingredient lists that they can understand.

Millennials want something for their money — not just calories to fill bellies. According to Innova Market Research’s survey of younger millennial (18 to 25) buying habits with bakery products, cost and ingredients were the top factors respondents cited for purchasing.

“We know millennials are looking for a healthier brand, but we also know from our research that they tend to be the most price-conscious consumers out there, so the key to the millennial shopping behavior is value,” said Jacque Taylor, director of marketing for Lehi Valley Trading Co., Mesa, Ariz., as reported by Monica Watrous, senior editor, digital content, for Sosland Publishing Company’s Food Business News, at NACS Show 2017. “They want a healthier snack brand, but they also want it at a value price.”

Millennials also want to support companies that reflect their own values: companies that are giving back to the environment and/or communities and those supporting an ethical supply chain. After analyzing 8.6 million online posts and comments by millennials over the course of a year, CBD Marketing found that millennials want to buy from manufacturers that are environmentally conscious and transparent about their ingredients, process and business. This is how companies gain brand loyalty from a generation marked by skepticism and motivated by price.

Millennials are looking for healthy food, which they often equate to simple ingredients they recognize, non-G.M.O. and organic.

“Millennials don’t want all the bad stuff added,” said Amos Bartlett, 27-year-old founder and president of Know Allergies, Charleston, S.C. The company produces a variety of non-G.M.O., natural bars that are free from the top allergens including peanuts, tree nuts, milk and eggs. “We want it all taken away. We’re sick of preservatives; we’re sick of fake things. We want real food.”

According to a study by the Center for Generational Kinetics, 64% of millennials said they prefer snacks with fewer ingredients, and 79% said being able to understand everything on the ingredient list boosted their trust in packaged snacks. Mintel reported that millennials are more likely than baby boomers to say they worry about potentially harmful ingredients in the food they buy.

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