Millennials might be one of the most scrutinized, over analyzed, and least understood, consumer bases in today’s foodservice industry. If you consider the ramifications, however, the reality might just be the opposite. The group, which typically refers to anyone who reached adulthood around the turn of the century, will easily color the largest section of restaurant spending charts for years—decades, really—to come. That brings up an issue for operators in the industry; those just starting and hoping to grow, and those who want to avoid the dreaded “run its course” criticism that haunts some of the older, classic venues that fail to keep pace.
At its core, the problem can be rooted in descriptions. Millennials, even more so than some of the Baby Boomers and Generation Xers that have long dominated the dining-out segment, are characterized and sorted into too wide of a box. This is the base of a first-of-its-kind study, called GenerationWhy, commissioned by the Corn Refiners Association and completed in part by Ipsos and BuzzFeed. The data was collected from 1,000 Millennials, as well as 250 generation Xers (generally referring to anyone born in the early 1960s to 1980s), and 250 Baby Boomers (birth dates 1946 to 1964). The questions revolved around their attitudes toward food ingredients; purchasing decisions in grocery stores and dining out; and their use of social media as it relates to food.
The basic finding was this: all Millennials are simply not created equal. “Until now, many studies have made sweeping generalizations about Millennials,” says Sara Martens, vice president of the MSR Group and GenerationWhy research analyst in the release. “This study picks up where others left off, proving Millennials are not a monolith. It provides game-changing insights for food and beverage brands looking to engage with the right millennial segment, at the right time, with the right message.”
In a webcast revealing the study, Aron Levin, a marketing professor from Northern Kentucky, stresses the need for operators to embrace this learning curve. “As we all know, Millennials will be the largest cohort of consumers for decades to come. So, in order to grow, it’s becoming more and more important for businesses to understand them,” he explains in the webcast.
The study identified four distinct characterizations of Millennials.
The first was “Traditionalist Taylor,” which makes up the largest segment at 37 percent. This group, according to the data, was the least likely to look at nutrition labels regularly, and is more concerned with how food tastes and what it costs than trying new things. This group also spends the least amount of time on social media.
The next was “Bon Vivant Brittany.” This 23 percent crop falls into the “younger” Millennials range (18—25, the older is 26—34), and is one of two identified groups dining out more often at restaurants. The sector is also least likely to avoid specific foods and ingredients, and spends an average amount of time on social media.
Third—“Food Purist Paige”—accounts for 19 percent of the Millennials population and is the most likely, as the name suggests, to avoid specific foods and ingredients. Additionally, taste is the top priority, while healthier family options remains important. Social media use is average as well.
“Balance-Seeker Brad” stands in as the final category at 16 percent. “Brad” reads nutrition labels regularly, with family in mind, but tends to look at food holistically rather than avoiding specific ingredients. This is the category spending the most time dining out and browsing social media.