The story line about Millennials is different now.
Until recently food retailers were a bit tentative about Generation Y, focused more on questions such as, “When will they get married, have families, and start spending more?”
There was no doubt Millennials were influential, but they weren’t moving the needle for supermarkets as much as hoped. Gen Y was on the radar, but not the front burner.
Things have changed.
Maybe it’s because Millennials are poised to soon pass Baby Boomers as the generation with the most living members.
Or maybe it’s because birthrates in the U.S. rose last year for the first time since before the recession, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
It’s probably those reasons and a lot more. Many marketers have already put these younger consumers front and center with product launches and promotions. Retailers are taking notice of all these developments and paying more attention to Gen Y.
That was evident in the recent series of high-profile industry trade shows.
Retailers attending the FMI Connect, United Fresh and Floriculture Expo in Chicago last month sought new ideas for catering to younger consumers, as SN reported.
“I’ve already learned about a number of trends, including targeting Millennials by using neons and other vibrant colors in the floral department,” said Kroger Co. floral buyer Leshaun Smedley, interviewed in Chicago.
(For more coverage of FMI Connect and its co-located shows, see SN’s special FMI Connect web page.)
Millennials are a big topic in the corporate suite too. Roundy’s CEO Bob Mariano left no doubt about the growing importance of this generation during his presentation at a United Fresh session in Chicago.
He emphasized these consumers insist on foods that are both fun to eat and good for you, which he said represents a new way of thinking.
Other recent trade shows were emphasizing these shoppers as well. The Show & Sell Center at IDDBA’s Dairy-Deli-Bake in Atlanta in June carried the theme of “Growing the Future,” with a focus on how to attract Gen Y consumers.
Meanwhile, some recent retailer moves were based on the recognition that Millennials have arrived. Chief among those was Whole Foods Market’s announcement it plans a value-oriented store format with younger consumers in mind.
While that seems like a smart strategy, there’s lots of debate about what Millennials really want in their store experiences, so Whole Foods’ venture carries a lot of risk.
Younger shoppers are likely to keep surprising us. That was certainly the case with a recent Ad Age article saying Millennials may be bigger fans of Walmart than older generations.
At first blush it doesn’t fit with the Gen Y image, until you consider that young parents with kids are fond of low prices and convenient one-stop-shops, both in-store and online, all things that Walmart emphasizes.
There are lots of good ideas on how to better understand and engage this generation. Many of them have been outlined before. What’s different is there’s a new urgency about reaching these consumers. It’s not the future anymore, it’s now.