What makes food brands ‘authentic’? Survey asks Millennials to weigh in

By Adi Menayang contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Generation y

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock
Both consumers and marketers often use the buzzword 'authentic,' but what exactly does it mean? A new consumer report zoomed in on today’s favorite demographic—millennials—to find out what a brand needs to do to embody authenticity.

Last year, Fortune magazine reported​ that the top packaged food and beverage companies lost an estimated $4 billion in market share in 2014. Food and beverage consultancy Watershed said that this shift is largely driven by the hunt for 'authenticity,' especially from the biggest demographic of consumers in the US today—millennials.

“The industry is trying to digest this dramatic power shift from trusting consumers to a new, highly-engaged demographic."

The report, based on two ethnographic studies​, compiled the opinions and preferences of American consumers that fall into the millennial age group (around 18 to 34) in an attempt to define what authenticity means.

What makes a brand authentic?

There were two methods used to collect the data. One study, titled 'Media Habits of Millennials,' looked at 178 videos from 67 millennials, people aged 18-32, over the course of a week. The second, titled 'What Matters to Millennials,' was a person-to-person survey with 400 millennials over the course of five days.

Based on their findings, there are five points that help brands get an 'authentic' stamp from consumers. The first two related to the product itself: clean ingredients, which means a promise that the product is made out of natural, fresh, and organic ingredients; and a quality product with great taste, which Watershed explained meant that, to Millennials, “top-shelf ingredients and great flavour are non-negotiable.”

The last three had a lot to do with how the company behind the brand conducts business, and how it positions itself in the world. True to mission, meaning brands have to stay true to their claims and slogans; culturally accurate, attributed to the fact that Millennials tend to be more exposed to global flavors and symbols, so they “appreciate brands that genuinely honor cultural heritage;​” and transparency, which means fine prints are a no-no—go for big bold letters instead.

In the 'swipe culture,' first impressions are everything

According to the report, big brands that were associated with authenticity by many millennials included, in order: Trader Joe's, Coca-Cola, Kind Bars, Honest Tea, and Starbucks.  “We were surprised by the millennial definition of authenticity​,” said Lisa Donoughe, Watershed’s principal and founder, in the press release. “Millennials want simplicity and consistency – not just small, indie brands.”

A crucial component of setting a positive and authentic image on consumers is the first impression. Print magazines and broadsheet ads in newspapers aren’t primary sources anymore though they still matter, but with smaller pages (erm, screens) and more concurrence, millennials have created the habit to read briefly and swipe away—unless what they glimpsed was compelling.

A large percentage of millennials said that they can easily describe a newly discovered food or beverage brand in one sentence (84%), while 86% of millennials determine brand fit right after reading about the product. In other words, the generation is forming opinions about brands from the minute they read about them, Donaghe said.

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2 comments

RE: Link to Studies

Posted by Adi,

Hi Amanda, thanks for your note. I hyperlinked to the studies in the third paragraph just now, but here it is again: http://watershedcom.com/research/

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Link to studies

Posted by Amanda,

Could you provide more information or a link to the two studies of millennials mentioned in the article?

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