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Why Millennials still mystify the food industry

Why Millennials still mystify the food industry

I’ve seen two main reactions when the subject of Millennials comes up among retailers and manufacturers, as it often does these days.

One reaction is denial. This shows itself in snarky comments about the industry’s focus on this generation of consumers.

“Is there anything else to talk about besides Millennials?”

“Millennials, again. Really?”

Another response is reticence. While it’s not often acknowledged, much of the industry is still confused about how to win over this generation, which ranges widely in age from early 20s to late 30s, and is increasingly eclipsing Baby Boomers in influence.

That brings me to a question we typically ask about surging food categories, like gluten-free. Is it a trend or a fad?

It’s a strange question to ask about Millennials, or any other generation. So let’s ask it about “Millennial,” which I’ll define as the extreme focus on this generation and its behaviors.

I would argue that “Millennial” is neither a trend nor a fad in this industry.

The recent obsession with these younger consumers certainly seems fad-like. But Millennials and their needs aren’t going away, so fad doesn’t seem right.

Trend doesn’t nail it either, because “Millennial” is actually part of a bigger trend that needs to be better understood.

SN is calling this wider phenomenon “The New Consumer,” and much of this month’s issue is devoted to analysis and research about this topic.

The New Consumer is meant to underscore changing behaviors among shoppers of all ages, with Millennials on the leading edge.

Neil Stern puts it well in his piece called “Millennials are just like you and me, only younger.”

“It should come as no surprise that many of their behaviors are also being adopted by other generational groups. … The biggest difference I see, and the biggest threat, is that, unlike in previous generations, having their …needs met at a supermarket is not a given.”

That’s a big concern. Retailers have to first reach Millennials if they are going to attract other changing consumers. This month’s cover story, "Fresh ideas in store formats from Kroger, Ahold, Whole Foods," shows how retailers are beginning to launch new store formats aimed at doing just that.

SN is further addressing this topic through a first-time conference called The New Consumer, to be held Sept. 14 to 15 in Indianapolis. You can read a story about this event here. This forum will debunk lingering myths about this generation and relay Gen Y’s (and even Gen Z’s) wider, disruptive impact across the shopper base. It will feature retailer speakers who outline their latest efforts to address this phenomenon, which touches everything from prepared foods and online shopping to health and wellness merchandising and multicultural marketing.


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The New Consumer is a unique forum dedicated to this topic, complete with education, awards for culinary and retail achievement, discussion and networking. You can learn more about the event and register at this link:  http://bit.ly/SNconference.

I look forward to continuing this discussion because The New Consumer is arguably the most important topic in food retailing today. We need to figure this out while it’s still “new,” or lose out to those who do.

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