It’s no secret: the millennials now drive the food marketplace. The size of this cohort, now aged 18 to 33 and also called Gen Y, is bigger than the baby boomers.

“And they’re doing things differently,” said Sheryl Stennett, vice-president of marketing for Cargill, Wayzata, Minn. Their purchase motivations are different, and they care more about the opinions of their peers than any earlier generation.

“But we’ve also learned that baby boomers are adopting many of the mindsets of the millennials,” Ms. Stennett said. “If just look at general data, you miss a lot.”

Ms. Stennett spoke at the 2014 Spring Technical Conference organized by the Milling & Baking Division of the American Association of Cereal Chemists International, held April 9-11 at Tampa, Fla.

Food industry marketers — especially those in the baking category — will need to understand what motivates each generation in why they buy. Health claims, Ms. Stennett said, are important to older consumers, but younger generations will pay more to represent their values in their purchases.

“At Cargill, we look at the macro trends,” she continued, naming them as: well-being; simplify my life; experience it; social responsibility; and empowerment. Of these, she identified “experience it” as a particularly important driver in food purchases. “Simplify” is about convenience and making food choices easy. “Well-being” encompasses not just health and wellness but has a social component to it. “Social responsibility” favors foods appealing to consumers with positive stories. “Empowerment” brings in the foodies and also drives the food choices parents make for their children but cuts across all generations.

Consumers have stronger opinions about their foods than ever before.

“People believe they know how to make right choices but are not willing to give up on taste,” Ms. Stennett said.

The trends hitting most strongly are those involved with well-being and experience-seeking behaviors, she observed.

“I think these are the big drivers for the protein trend,” she added. “In the U.S., we’re not at deficiency [on protein] but people are clamoring for protein. There’s the association of energy with protein.”

Turning to industry statistics, Ms. Stennett described the environment for grain-based foods as flat.

“But flat is the new up,” she said, quoting Nielson scan data that found fresh bread growing at 1.5%, cookies at 6% and tortillas at 5.7%.

“Grain-based foods are under attack,” she said of recent negative comments in books, blogs and media, but she praised the Grain Foods Foundation and the Wheat Foods Council for their positive messaging about the category.

“These sources offer good, science-based information,” she said. “There is opportunity to get the rest of the story to the consuming public.”