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Mariano: Millennials want food to be fresh and fun

Mariano: Millennials want food to be fresh and fun

Millennials reject the notion that fun and fresh are mutually exclusive when it comes to food.

“The old way of thinking is that if it’s good for you, it can’t be fun to eat,” Roundy’s CEO Bob Mariano said Tuesday in the United Fresh opening session in Chicago.

That’s no longer the case, as Millennials demand food that is both good for the body and interesting to the palate.

Bob Mariano (Photo by Steve Greiner)
Bob Mariano at United Fresh (Photo by Steve Greiner)

“Millennials reject the idea that eating healthy has to be boring,” he said. “They want to enjoy eating healthy.”

Catering to Millennials is critical because they are setting the agenda for the food retailing industry, said Mariano.

He cited research showing the spending power of Millennials: They are expected to surpass Baby Boomers this year as the nation’s largest living generation; 65% of the U.S. Hispanic population are Millennials or younger; Millennials are expected to account for the bulk of food growth; and their home food spending is soaring.

What’s more, male Millennials are just as likely to grocery shop as female Millennials.

Millennials have unprecedented knowledge about health, and the importance of good nutrition.

“They know not only which foods are good for you, but also which foods are good for which parts of the body,” Mariano said.

This will have strong implications on the produce department.

“Produce has always been the cornerstone of our business,” he said. “Now, it’s become the place for taste, creativity and enjoyment.”

The state of the produce department can make or break the customer experience, Mariano said. If a shopper has a bad experience with produce, they probably aren’t coming back. In fact, most shoppers say the produce department is the most important factor of where they shop, he said.

“The produce department sets the tone for the rest of the store,” he said.

That’s why quality and variety are key. For instance, customers are demanding a wider variety of dark greens to due the health benefits. So, merchandising a large selection of, say, kale, will cater to their needs.

Millennials also place more importance on organic than boomers. Likewise, local foods are essential. “Local, what once was a niche business, is now a big business,” he said.


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Roundy’s is a major supporter of the farm-to-table movement because of shopper requests.

Health and wellness produce specialty departments are just as important, according to Mariano.

For instance, the company has opened 35 juice bars in just a few years.

“Three years ago, we didn’t know what a juice bar was,” he said. “Today, we encourage you to try our Super Kale Smoothie. You’ll feel better than ever.”

At the same time, grocery stores need to be more than just a sum of inventory. They should offer wellness workshops, nutrition education, cooking classes and access to dietitians, Mariano said.

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