Millennials and Food

By Jamie Sperling

If we want to understand the Millennial generation – the largest generation, the ones whose attention we’re all vying for and whose psyche we’re desperately trying to understand – one way is to look at their relationship with food. We can use food as a proof point for explaining how they think and what’s important to them, and make sense of the environmental trends that are driving their other purchasing decisions.

Millennials who came of age between 2000 and 2010, were impacted by two economic recessions. But unlike the depression-era generation, when money for the most basic things, like food, was scarce, this economic downturn allowed Millennials to prioritize their spending for experiences rather than “stuff.” While both groups lived through similar hardship, technology, social factors, and wealthier parents and grandparents have been key contributors to Millennial’s differed response. This group continuously seeks to supersede function (and is financially able to) with something that is actually meaningful.

As a result, they believe that food is experience, food is community, food is a shareable moment and food is identity-defining. They care about where their food comes from, who is behind it and how it is presented. It doesn’t matter if it’s a $5 food truck or a Michelin rated restaurant, the experience of it all is the driver for this group.

We’ve seen this trend grow in real-time with the considerable amount of social media accounts dedicated to food, the millions who view Buzzfeed Food cooking videos, in addition to the number of food-based television programs. It’s not just a hobby, it’s a way of life. And associating yourself with this food-value lifestyle, says something about who you, the Millennial, are personally.

If Millennials are this particular about how they choose to express themselves through food, their demand for meaning has profound implications for all brands targeting this demographic. With that in mind, here are a few considerations and examples for how brands can live, to better engage the Millennial audience:

  1. Technology: While Millennials are reliant on technology for work, school and social engagement, it’s not just a functional tool – it’s a social bullhorn. Through technology, Millennials gain access to social networks, thoughts and ideas. As a result, social channels are the main source of how they learn about and influence others. Many brands that want to attract Millennials think the first step is to have a presence on social channels to push their message to this targeted group. But more often than not, Millennials reject this approach because they don’t want to be sold to; they want to be understood. Brands like Apple and Nike do just that – they relate to Millennials on a personal, psychographic-level, promoting the idea that these brands are an extension of who they are, not just a targeted sales pitch.
  2. Experience: It’s not enough to just go somewhere, you need to immerse yourself and experience it. When did doing something need to become an experience? It’s now and it’s here to stay. Millennials crave meaning, they crave purpose, authenticity and real action. Whether that experience is in-person or online, it needs to be memorable. As seen with the community-focused brand, SoulCycle, they’re not just looking to check boxes, they’re looking for something that will enhance them.
  3. Shareability: If you don’t share it on social media, does that mean it even happened? This may be the question of this generation. Creating experiences and crafting ways to share them is as important as the experience itself. Sharing ideas, images, and videos is how this group connects with others in the social space. It means that whatever your brand creates for Millennials needs to have the ability and accessibility to share and align with their need to share something that furthers their point of view. This group is not shy, they want people to know where they’ve been, what they’re doing and who they were with. Brands that practice this approach are Red Bull, Oreo and Taco Bell.