Avocado toast, oat milk lattes, green smoothies, and everything that comes in a bowl: if you haven’t eaten it, you’ve seen it on Instagram. Whether you’re a millennial yourself or not, it’s hard to deny that this generation is changing the way we consume and perceive food.
For millennials, food isn’t just there to satisfy our hunger, or even our tastebuds. Now, how and what we eat is a lifestyle, and at times a political statement.
And brands around the world are obsessed. Whether it’s LaCroix encouraging fans to debate their best flavor, or Chipotle attracting new customers with its transparent ingredient sourcing, it seems everyone wants to better understand and market to millennials.
Luckily, as the generation which has had perhaps the highest degree of social media involvement, millennials share a lot about themselves online - especially when it comes to food.
As a social media intelligence company, we’re fascinated by how the eating habits of different generations and social groups are expressed online. And as a foodie who’s also a millennial, I’m eager to find out how many others in my generation share my tastes and food choices.
First, though, let’s explore the world’s obsession with millennials a little more.
Why is the world so obsessed with millennials?
Millennials, or those of us born between the early 80s and the year 2000, are perhaps the most significant demographic when it comes to marketing and product development.
After all, millennials form the largest working generation, and play a major role in determining popular culture and trends.
And when we as millennials set trends, businesses are quick to pay attention. Just look at the embrace of normcore dad sneakers, the rise of mainstream veganism, and the increased brand focus on sustainability, environmentalism, and transparent production.
Kombucha, one of the most prominent millennial food trends. Source: Captain Kombucha
Not only can millennial tastes give rise to entirely new consumer markets (we’re looking at you, kombucha), but they also have the ability to put a major dent in what were once thriving industries.
This helps explain the endless string of headlines announcing the death of particular products or trends due to changes in millennial tastes and habits. It seems millennials could be responsible for the end of beer, mayonnaise, cereal, golf, and even Buffalo Wild Wings.
Who knew millennials could be such a destructive force?
Of course, millennials aren’t solely responsible for these trends, even if their purchasing habits are contributing to a downturn in some once-popular products.
Instead, millennials are more likely to be seen as a scapegoat for these trends simply because of our visibility within modern culture. And the reason for this visibility? The extent to which we’ve all embraced social media.
Millennials: the social media generation
No other generation has grown up with the same level of intimacy with social media as millennials.
Movies, music, fashion, exercise, travel - there’s nothing we won’t post about in exhaustive detail online. As a result, there’s a vast trove of information available regarding their tastes and consumer choices - if you know how to look for it.
And the most passionately debated arena of millennial taste and preference? Food.
In our report, we found that millennials make up a massive 40% of social media discussions concerning food on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter in the United States. In France, this figure is even higher, at 49%.
This high level of interest from millennials in discussing food and lifestyle choices makes social media the perfect place for brands and businesses to find inspiration for new products, and to track the popularity of millennial trends and habits.
However, before we go too much further, it’s important to remember one thing: millennials aren’t a monolith, and there’s no single set of millennial tastes.
Millennials aren’t all the same
It sounds obvious, right?
Still, given the tendency to see millennials as a single cultural presence, it’s worth repeating: millennials aren’t all the same, and shouldn’t be treated by brands as a single market with identical tastes and expectations.
Instead, millennials represent an incredibly broad and diverse generation of people, with the same differences and similarities that have characterized every generation.
Using social listening tools, however, we were able to establish that millennials on social media do tend to gravitate towards certain values.
What do millennials care about when it comes to food?
As we found in our report, "What Millennials Eat," there are a handful of collective values that seem to define millennials as a generation of consumers.
These values are reflected not only in our food preferences, but our preferences across a range of industries, including fashion, leisure, and even tourism.
Let’s take a look at these one-by-one, starting with the biggie: customization.
1. A desire for customization
As the Washington Post notes, “millennials don’t want the same sad burger everyone else is eating. They want to custom-design the flavor and personalize their meal.”
We couldn’t agree more. A strong theme coming through our research was the preference amongst millennials for customizable food experiences, and an appreciation for restaurants going the extra distance to cater for dietary requirements.
This focus on customization has been spearheaded by brands like Chipotle and Shake Shack, who make it hassle-free for customers to have exactly what they want. Now, it seems like everyone is getting on the action.
Shack Hack: Customize your order to get the goods you love, just how ya like 'em! 🙌 Go ahead + add that bacon... You deserve it. 😉🥓 pic.twitter.com/aCJMo2utPi— SHAKE SHACK (@shakeshack) May 9, 2019
2. A redefined notion of convenience focusing on busy lifestyles
Contrary to the popular culture image of a horde of Netflix-streaming slackers glued to their smartphones, evidence suggests millennials might actually be the hardest working generation out there. Take that, boomers!
With our commitment to work, active lifestyles, side hustles, and socializing, millennials are busy. And given this frantic pace of life, it’s not surprising that millennials place a high importance on convenience and speed - especially when it comes to food.
Today we're announcing that we've raised $575MM in a round led by Amazon.@willshuroo CEO and our first ever rider said "This is great news for the tech and restaurant sectors, and it will help to create jobs in all of the countries in which we operate." https://t.co/RdlZwbniyr— Deliveroo (@Deliveroo) May 17, 2019
This preference for convenience helps explain the stellar rise of delivery services like Uber Eats, Deliveroo, and Foodora.
3. An overall preoccupation with ‘wellness’
Don’t let the prioritization of convenience fool you - millennials still place a very high importance on healthy lifestyles, a balanced diet, and general wellness.
While the concept can be a little fuzzy, ‘wellness’ refers to the drive for a healthy and fulfilling life. When it comes to millennials, the focus on wellness often translates to making better decisions around diet, nutrition, and exercise.
This was a strong theme we found in our online research, with many millennial social media users leading conversations and exchanges on what wellness means to them - particularly around food choices.
4. A preference for transparent and sustainable brand relationships
Finally, we also found a preference for open and sustainable relationships between millennial consumers and brands, especially when it comes to environmental challenges like sustainability and climate change, as well as issues around labor.
These millennial values have had a significant impact on wider consumer preferences, and have helped give rise to companies committed to radical transparency, such as clothing brands Everlane and Patagonia.
An estimated 60% of all textiles used in apparel are derived from plastic, which equates to nearly 3 trillion plastic bottles every year. Many of these clothes eventually end up in landfills or oceans.— Fast Company (@FastCompany) April 29, 2019
Here’s how @everlane is finding new ways to solve it https://t.co/EibwN2eU0p pic.twitter.com/Wh34jNbwgB
Millennial values have also driven the increasing importance of authenticity when it comes to brand interaction, a trend which has the potential to disrupt a lot of major players in the food and beverage industry.
So, that’s an overview of some of the collective millennial values coming through our research. But what does the social media data tell us about what millennials actually eat?
Let’s take a look.
What do millennials actually eat?
Millennials, of course, are as diverse and varied in their tastes as any other generation or group of people. And just like every boomer didn’t grow up eating Jello for every meal, not every millennial’s fridge is full of matcha smoothies and gluten-free quinoa.
Using our social listening technology, however, we were able to identify a number of common trends showing up in millennial food discussions online.
1. Convenient - yet healthy - foods
As we said above, millennials are all about convenience. However, that doesn’t mean we want to eat rubbish food all the time.
Instead, we’re looking for high-quality food options that don’t take a lot of time to prepare or order, and which don’t completely break the bank.
This was a strong theme to come through our social media research, and is one of the reasons why meal delivery kit services such as Blue Apron and HelloFresh have really taken off in recent years.
For food brands, this sweet spot between convenience and healthiness represents a huge opportunity. Not only do millennials place a high preference on convenience and health - we’re also willing to pay a premium for it.
2. High-protein, low-calorie snacks
Interestingly, we also found a widespread interest on behalf of millennials in high-protein, low-calorie snacks such as nuts, trail mix, and lean meats.
It’s not always long walks and gin tweets... here’s some more homemade nut butter... pic.twitter.com/UUGcvYxSoN— Stuart Cantrill (@stuartcantrill) October 1, 2018
This reflects a commitment to active lifestyles, and a recognition that millennials shouldn’t have to completely avoid the foods they enjoy to stay healthy.
3. High-quality frozen foods
At first, this one might seem a little surprising, but trust us - millennials are paying plenty of attention to high-quality frozen foods.
Power of #FrozenFood: Recent investments by the frozen food industry to improve the quality and variety of their foods have paid off. But perceptions that offerings are unhealthy and low-quality still persist with many shoppers, according to a new reporthttps://t.co/Mw7JmFcpNC pic.twitter.com/fvqVhE20Ax— albertsliving (@albertsliving) May 14, 2019
And fortunately, food brands are starting to see the potential in this market. Instead of having to choose from a limited range of cardboard pizzas and TV-dinners, there are now plenty of nutritious and appealing frozen foods available.
Again, a big part of this trend is about convenience. Frozen foods can be a handy way to help manage busy lifestyles - especially for those without the time to cook meals from scratch.
4. Food products with low environmental footprint
Finally, we found a widespread concern among millennial social media users with the environmental footprint of the food choices.
In practice, this translates into a desire to minimize waste and packaging, and to look for sustainable food products with a lower environmental footprint.
For food and beverage brands, understanding millennial trends and preferences is crucial to developing and promoting brands for this lucrative market. If brands have a detailed grasp of what millennials want, they can better serve their fans and customers.
In you’d like to read a more comprehensive exploration of millennial food trends, be sure to take a look at the report in full here.
Millennials are changing the way the world eats
When it comes to food trends, millennials are leading the way.
Businesses pay a lot of attention to what this generation is looking for when they make purchasing decisions, and are always looking for new ways to cater to millennial tastes and preferences.
The key takeaways (pun intended) of our report, ‘What Millennials Eat’, are just one example of the power of social listening to analyze and understand consumer tastes and preferences.
By putting the rich data on millennial food habits to work, brands can unlock huge competitive advantages. These include getting a detailed understanding of market trends and preferences, and identifying opportunities for new products and services.
Take a look at our full report, and see how your brand can get in on the action.