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Millennials in the grocery store: Are they really that much different from older generations?

Millennials in the grocery store: Are they really that much different from older generations?

Millennials have been, arguably, the most scrutinized generation to date (watch out Gen Z, we have our eyes on you now). They have proved to be a most curious and confounding generation. I’m not sure that companies and brands have yet figured out the magic marketing elixir to “win them over.” And so they remain a conundrum. But should they? Are they really that much different from older generations?

Laurie Demeritt
Laurie Demeritt

As Millennials mature, they are changing in ways that are important to understand.

Millennials are gradually beginning to sound a bit more like their parents, and even their grandparents, which makes it worth considering whether our habit of thinking about generations in silos is too rigid. If we can fight the urge to believe that each generation is so wildly unique, we could learn more about what they want and what’s coming next.

Millennials are in a state of major transformation. They are waking up to the responsibilities of adulthood and are engaging in more “adult-centric” activities, like maintaining demanding jobs and starting families.

As part of their evolution, Millennials are striving to find balance and meaning in their day-to-day lives. This goes beyond the stale stereotypes of Millennials as being noncommittal and in a constant state of trying to “find themselves.”

Millennials are now more willing than ever to do the hard work that a fulfilled life truly demands. They are actively exerting more direction in some areas of their lives, while learning to let go of things that don’t really matter in others. Many are reconsidering their habits and making healthier choices. This is truly a time of setting new priorities.

In their interactions with food and beverage, Millennials are quite impulsive and adventurous than previous generations. The ways in which they have embraced and integrated technology into every aspect of their lives provide clues not just about what young adults want but for ways that Millennials are influencing changes across generations—and the vast food and beverage landscape.

Millennials in the grocery store

As grocery shoppers, Millennials are an interesting challenge for retailers because their desires, like those of all generations, are a reflection of how old they are and the times in which they live. Their shopping and eating behaviors are exceptional, and as such function as a kind of barometer for future consumer behavior.

What makes shopping more difficult for Millennials are many of the same issues as older generations, household budget limitations topping the list for all age groups. They face time constraints due to household and work schedule, which in turn make it difficult to have sufficient time for planning and shopping. And, like Gen Xers and Boomers, Millennials lack energy to think about shopping. (Figure 1)

Millennials are active and connected shoppers, most (70 percent) use their mobile devices while shopping, providing retailers an opportunity to connect with them via mobile commerce. The Hartman Group’s Food Shopping in America report finds that while shopping, Millennials use their mobile devices to consult a shopping list, call, text or email someone in the household, search for coupons, find recipes or research price, products and brands. (Figure 2).

As grocery shoppers, Millennials tend to be:

• Taking a more mature approach to foods and beverages and are making careful choices while attempting to avoid unnecessary additives
• Taking a broader perspective than older cohorts when evaluating foods and are less swayed by traditional nutritional markers on packaging, like health claims and calorie content
• Paying more attention to social callouts, including product narratives and origin stories
• Expanding their culinary boundaries by learning to cook and experimenting with new cuisines at home
• Buying frozen and pre-packaged foods they consider healthy, adding additional seasonings and fresh ingredients

The age-old marketing question: How to reach Millennials?

In marketing years, Millennials seemingly have been around for longer than their age might suggest. This generation has been the beacon of hope for the future of brands and companies, and the focus has shifted from the future to the here and now as Millennials are well into adulthood. Here are a few thoughts on how to connect with Millennials for food retailers, food service and restaurants.

• It’s important to curate a product selection that appeals to young adults on the move who have an interest in cooking and yet are more likely than other consumers to want to “eat out.”
• To meet these needs, providing prepared foods with “food-forward” characteristics (e.g., ethnic, natural, fresh) as well as a variety of snacks for eating-out (or in-store) occasions is an important consideration.
• New flavors and ingredients linking to global cuisines are of high significance to Millennials.
• Signage, narratives, food merchandising and in-store programs that highlight new food experiences are significantly important.
• Millennials lead the way in favoring natural and organic ingredients, products that are locally grown and/or made and those free of GMOs and allergens.
• More broadly, Millennials favor fresh, prepared and convenient foods — like other consumers, but often more so.
• Millennials rely on frozen meals more than older generations, thus representing yet more potential for in-store experience in terms of sampling.

New flavors and ingredients linking to global cuisines are of high significance to Millennials, thus signage, menus, narratives, food merchandising and in-store programs that highlight new food experiences can be impactful.

The key for retailers — and anyone catering to millennials these days — is to craft experiences that recognize the pragmatic goals of youthful shoppers and diners (e.g., convenience and affordability) with their higher than average desire for fresh, healthy, enjoyable eating experiences.

The Hartman Group is at the leading edge of food and beverage strategy. As CEO, Laurie drives the vision, strategy, operations and results-oriented culture for the company's associates as The Hartman Group furthers its offerings of tactical thinking, consumer and market intelligence, cultural competency and innovative intellectual capital to a global marketplace.

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