Millennials and food shopping: Are you up to speed?

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Millennials and food shopping: Are you up to speed?

Related tags Generation x

Compared to previous generations Millennials are far more likely to make spur-of-the-moment food decisions and have less well-stocked pantries, say market researchers. But many food retailers are not geared up to meet their changing needs.

With some notable exceptions, supermarkets are still designed to cater for people that want to restock their pantries. But if they want to appeal to Millennials, who are more focused on ‘What’s for dinner tonight​?’ or ‘What shall I eat right now?’​ as opposed to ‘What’s in my cupboard​?’ they need to up their game, Hartman Group SVP Shelley Balanko, PhD, told FoodNavigator-USA.

“Food shopping is less planned for Millennials. They are more impulsive and spontaneous, and retailers can make things easier for them by putting the components of a meal together all in one place that they can assemble for dinner.”

She added: “It’s important to curate a product selection that appeals to young adults on the move who have an interest in cooking and yet are more likely than other consumers to want to ‘eat out’.”

So retailers, she said, need to:

  • Offer more ethnic, natural, fresh prepared convenient foods plus plenty of snacks.
  • Offer new flavors and ingredients linking to global cuisines.
  • Introduce signage, narratives, food merchandising and in-store programs that highlight new food experiences.
  • Provide more local, natural, allergy-friendly and organic ingredients.

Millennials shop at a wider number of food retailers than Gen Xers, boomers

Another thing we know about Millennials - Americans born between 1980 and 2000 – is that they also like to shop around, typically frequenting nine different food retail banners over a 90-day period vs 7.1 for Gen Xers and 6.3% for boomers, noted Balanko.

But are they seeking the best deal, or just happy to shop anywhere and everywhere?

The latter, she said. “They shop wherever and whenever it is convenient, and their focus is more about fulfilling the needs for a certain occasion within a limited time horizon ​[than something more strategic, like planning meals for a week].”

Food shopping – like eating in a restaurant – is an experience

They are also adventurous eaters, she said, and crave experiences around food that some more progressive fresh-food-focused retailers - and meal delivery firms - are trying to provide.


The appeal of a monthly snack box, for example, is in part surprise and discovery although there can be elements of portion control and budgeting involved, she said.  

When it comes to price, "Millennials care about value but they are also guided by values,​" and more likely to think about environmental and social justice concerns while food shopping than previous generations, she added.

Millennials and brands

But what about brands? Do Millennials instinctively distrust big companies and brands?

According to Balanko: “Millennials are what we call brand agnostic; they are less likely to be exclusionary – to say 'I only buy this brand' - for example. But if you are wildly successful but remain true to your values, big isn’t necessarily seen as bad. What they care about is transparency and authenticity."

Compared to other generations, she said, Millennials are also more likely to: 

  • Be gender neutral​ when it comes to who cooks (c. 60% of both sexes say they enjoy cooking).
  • Consider food an adventure​ and seek out different, ethnic and artisanal foods (40% like to try new kinds of ethnic cuisines and ‘anything new and different’ compared to 34% and 32% respectively of Gen X and Boomers).
  • Blend sauces and infuse flavors to customize​ new salad dressings and marinades.
  • Eat less meat,​ with 6% identifying as faithful vegetarians vs 5% of Gen X and Boomers combined; and 12% report ‘often going vegetarian’, vs 10% of Gen Xers and 5% of Boomers.
  • Buy frozen​ and pre-packaged foods they consider healthy, adding seasonings and fresh ingredients.

It’s all about me…

Given that the boundaries between retail and foodservice are blurring - Millennials might eat lunch at Ikea or grab a salad from Trader Joe's to eat at work, then grab a packaged snack from a cafe to eat on the way home - turning your store into a place where people can meet, eat and drink as well as shop, makes sense, added Lynn Casey, founder of LA based consultancy Shine Scout.

Blue Apron

Meanwhile, firms such as NatureBox and Blue Apron tapped into Millennials’ desire to build experiences around food that are personalized (‘This box was curated just for me’​), but also sharable (‘We can make the meal/discover new snacks together’​), and fun (‘I’ve never made this dish/seen this kind of snack before’​) she added.

 “You just don’t get that experience going to Albertson’s.”

Millennials can be sentimental and nostalgic as well as adventurous  

Two brands that do a great job of appealing to Millennials, who can be “sentimental and nostalgic”​ as well as adventurous, said Casey, are:

Cabot Cheese​: “A super smart repositioning as a family brand with an authentic heritage. From showcasing their family dairy online, to posting 100s of pics of cheese types on Pinterest, with an educational flare, they tap into the desire for authenticity, variety and the opportunity to 'make it yourself'. Great use of social media, with a modern 'foodie' appeal and a grounded heritage position.”

The Amsterdam market Bilder & De Clercq: ​“They showcase 14 'ingredient' tables curated around individual recipes, all designed to answer the age old question ' What's for dinner'.  Shoppers can come in and browse, peruse the recipes online, contribute recipes, or just come in and eat at the cafe. Google has just partnered with them to deliver pre-packed grocery bags around menus selected by employees to eliminate the stop at the store on the way home.  It’s shopping that is creative, exciting, surprising and practical.”

Bilder & De Clercq Google

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