A review of 12.5 million social media posts and online commentary, such as Amazon reviews, from Millennials over a course of a year ending in August revealed “a lot of negative connotations associated with snacking,” Sarah Flagg, a co-author of the report, told FoodNavigator-USA.
“There were a lot of negative conversations about snacking and being hungry or having cravings, and even though there are a lot of healthy snacks out there, Millennials couldn’t always tell what is healthy and what is not,” she said.
These emotions are grounded partly in Millennials learning from a young age to eat three square meals a day and that “if you eat at 3 pm it is a bad thing!,” Flagg said. She added the silver lining for manufacturers is that "it is more of a mental block than actually being dissatisfied with any CPG snacks.”
But it also suggests that the industry’s obsessive focus on snacks may be at least partially misplaced and that there is consumer need for meals that are more satisfying and help them stay fuller longer, Flagg said.
“The more a product can promote satiety and that it will fill you up without being unhealthy, I think, that is a huge marketing opportunity,” she said.
This is not to say all snacks are bad, Flagg said. She acknowledged that Millennials still love better-for-you snacks – especially almonds and bite-size ball-shaped snacks, according to their social media posts. But finding time to enjoy these snacks is another issue.
Other time-saving foods that Millennials turn their noses up at in social media posts are old-fashioned TV dinners or convenient “helper” products, such as Hamburger Helper, Flagg said. Part of this might be due to a lack of transparency or concerns about excessive processing, she said.
Other products that Millennials derided on social media are diet and fat-free foods, favoring instead products that were nutrient dense, whole and minimally processed, Flagg said.
Multi-purpose grocery stores, such as Walmart, also were out. Although Millennials make exceptions for Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, she said.
The end of the 4 pm question about what’s for dinner?
Another surprising finding in the report is that Millennials are very focused on meal prep and knowing what they will be eating for the week ahead. This goes against other research that suggests most Millennials don’t start thinking about their evening meal until they are on their way home from work or the gym.
“Millennials talk a lot more about cooking and meal prep versus the TV dinners they had growing up. They are very focused on cooking their own food, plating their meals – which is really important – and so to make that happen they are thinking about their whole week or a week and a half of food versus, what will I have for dinner today,” Flagg said.
Based on the social media posts she reviewed, Flagg said the ideal solution is to prep meals over the weekend so they are ready for busy weeknights.
“There are some people who even go to the extreme of preparing all their lunches and dinners for the week on Sundays, but most people at least were figuring out what to bring for lunch,” she said.
One way Millennials find the time on the weekends do prep all their meals is by outsourcing the shopping or planning components.
“They are very okay with alternative distribution methods. So, they didn’t always feel the need to go to the grocery store. They are using Peapod, they are using Amazon Prime, they are experimenting with meal kit services. So, they are really more agnostic about how they get their food. It is no longer about a weekly trip to the store on Sundays,” Flagg said.
Smoothies, international fare and environmental products are hot
Other positive trends uncovered in the report include a love of smoothies and a desire to try more adventurous cuisines, such as Scandinavian and Indian fare, Flagg said.
“Previously, steak and potatoes would have been considered a nice meal, but now Millennials perceive other cultural foods as being nicer and something that they want to enjoy and try,” she said.
Finally, she noted, Millennials responded positively to environmentally-conscious food brands.
“They want to know where food came from, how has the [animal] been treated, does the meat have antibiotics, are there GMOs or added sugar. They care a lot more about where their food comes from and then about what it is doing to the environment,” she said.