Millennials, the young adults who were born between the early 1980s to the late 1990s, grew up in an age of information that’s become incessantly more global and more digital. Their tastes and preferences are markedly different from those of previous generations and they are not shy about it. They have been influencing industries in all walks of life, including the food and beverage industry.
A recent report by Ripples, the manufacturer of the Ripple Maker, an innovative printer for the beverage industry, examined the impact that Millennials have on the food and beverage industry and the trends that they set. Ripples 2020 food and beverage trends report found that Milleniials affect the way food and beverage products look, how they taste, what they contain and even how they are manufactured. Their impact on the industry, according to Ripples, is huge.
Let us also look at this generation, which is the focus of so many articles and see – are Millennials really setting the trends in the food and beverage industry?
So…. What Defines Millennials’ Preferences?
It’s nearly impossible to pinpoint any one particular feature that defines Millennials’ tastes. Admittedly, they are known for their love of certain trendy, so-called “hipster” foods like avocado toast and vegan sushi, as well as “insta-worthy” concoctions like rainbow grilled cheese and charcoal ice cream. But their preferences go far beyond the latest trends, extending to calls for both more sustainable, environmentally-conscious options and health-conscious products like plant-based dairy and meat alternatives, gluten free items, and products that are local, organic, and non-GMO.
Millennials aren’t afraid to be unconventional in their food preferences. After all, a major part of setting trend comes from being unique, non-traditional, and boundary-pushing. More than previous generations, Millennials have adapted their diets to far beyond what is considered “normal.” Ever heard of biohacking? Millennials are big on the concept, adapting their diets in unusual ways in an attempt to improve their overall health and alter the way their body functions. From intermittent fasting to juice cleanses to the ketogenic diet– it’s all part of an attempt to push the boundaries of what is possible for the human body. This concept of pushing boundaries is deeply intertwined with Millennials’ preferences. They aren’t content with the traditional food pyramid and convention of three square meals a day. They’re increasingly challenging conventional food wisdom, modifying their diets to fit their modern lifestyles, and spreading awareness online through social media and other means. For example, Millennials have championed several documentaries that have investigated the food industry. They’re not afraid to challenge the status quo.
Millennials have spear-headed efforts to focus on locally-grown and even bruised or “ugly” produce, supporting local small businesses and local farmers’ markets rather than major chains. But it’s definitely not the case that they never do business with chains. You can find plenty of them shopping at trendy, high-end spots like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. And it’s definitely not the case that all of their choices are environmentally conscious or even health conscious. Take for example the millennial obsession with Starbucks, a major beverage chain which has expanded exponentially in the last decade thanks in large part to Millennials. Perhaps because Starbucks has quite adeptly responded to Millennial preferences and adapted to fit their tastes (e.g. serving almond, soy, and coconut milk as dairy alternatives and serving up trendy, insta-worthy items and seasonal favorites). From the classic soy latte to the “pink drink” and secret menu concoctions, Starbucks has been all the rage with Millennials.
Millennials are connected globally in a way previous generations weren’t – thanks largely to the internet and social media. They’re generally more aware of global cultures and cuisines and as a result are really big on cuisine with all sorts of global influences. From matcha lattes being available at most standard coffee shops to bubble tea chains popping up all over North America to sushi and ramen spots as staples for lunch outings, the cultural crossover is huge. You can even get vegan sushi or a sushi burrito if you so desire.
The cultural crossover is both inspired by and perpetuated by social media. Millennials are pretty in-tune with the latest trends through social networking sites like Instagram, where food accounts are huge. If you take a look at Millennials’ Instagram accounts, you will find that many have pages comprised largely of food and beverage photos, or they might have a separate account solely dedicated to their culinary adventures. They love to find the trendiest new spots to visit through social media. They “check in” via apps like Yelp and then write reviews to let everyone know how the experience was. And food and beverage businesses have taken note. They’ve been increasingly investing in social media outreach, and put a special emphasis on creating “Insta-worthy” dishes and beverages.
Bad For Business?
It can be challenging to keep up with the ever-evolving trends and ethical concerns of this generation. Millennials’ unique and sometimes difficult-to-define preferences have been the subject of much scrutiny, perhaps because major food and beverage industry leaders have been having trouble keeping up with them, and Millennials’ preferences aren’t always good for big business. It’s a balancing act – keeping up with trends and at the same time having a firm understanding of evolving ethical concerns in order to stay competitive. There is no doubt that marketing to Millennials is a challenge.
What Does the Future Look Like?
As Millennials influence in the market continues to grow, industries will continue to adapt to their unique preferences and to an increasingly digital and global world. We can expect to see a plethora of sustainable, healthy, trendy, and niche options, which we are already seeing to a large extent as Millennials make their voices heard in the market.