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Eating, Drinking, and Shopping with Millennials

July 23, 2015


“Millennial mania … is overtaking all manner of businesses,” writes Hilary Stout (@hastout), “and [it] seems to be getting more obsessive by the day. Not since the baby boomers came of age has a generation been the target of such fixation.”[1] It’s true that marketers are beginning to target Millennials and that manufacturers are designing products specifically for millennials and that some retailers are developing entirely new business models to appeal to their tastes. The question is whether this focus represents a mania or good business sense. As I will explain below, there are good reasons that manufacturers, retailers, and service providers are targeting Millennials. Stout believes, however, that all of this attention “has a 21st-century style of urgency — with 24/7 micropandering, psychographic analysis, a high-priced shadow industry of consultants and study after study. (A few from recent days: how luxury brands can connect with millennials; what millennials think about restaurant loyalty programs; and which emotions most influence the purchasing decisions of millennials. Answer: anxiety and empowerment.)”


One reason I suspect that so much attention is being paid to millennials is that their age spread (from late teens to early 30s) is large enough at this stage to make any generalizations about them a bit suspect. That makes marketers uncomfortable and they want to find out as much as possible about them as quickly as possible. Another reason for targeting members of Generation Y is that they are already the largest segment of the population and will be the largest age group in the workforce by 2020. Also becoming clear is the fact that millennials’ approach to everything from eating, drinking, to shopping is different than previous generations.


Millennials and Food


Cristina Maza (@CrisLeeMaza) reports, “Millennials across the country are more aware of their food than ever before, from seeking out farmers markets to fill Mason jars with locally grown produce to lovingly (critics might say, obsessively) photographing meals and uploading them to Instagram.”[2] Maza adds, “In general, Millennials say they care deeply about where their food comes from and how it is produced. They are more likely to seek out locally grown produce, environmentally sustainable meat, and nutritionally dense superfoods. And given their numbers, corporations are starting to pay attention.” You might have noticed, for example, that a significant number of large food companies have announced that they are removing artificial flavors and colors from their products. Tyson Foods has indicated that it is going to eliminate human antibiotics from its poultry production. Whole Foods has announced that it is going to create a new chain of grocery stores that cater to Millennial’s’ lifestyle. “It’s Millennial consumers, known for being pickier about almost everything,” Maza writes, “who are blazing the trail and demanding more from their food.”


Millennials and Drink


Jeff Fromm (@JeffFromm) reports, “Millennials are the youngest legal drinkers in the United States and are not shy about sharing their alcoholic preferences. Whether they are drinking trendy craft beers, boxed wines or scotch straight up, they are doing so in a way that no other generation has before. Alcohol has become intertwined with the millennial culture, resulting in a re-imagination of the adult beverage industry.”[3] Fromm adds:

“The recent millennial obsession with craft beers speaks to the growing millennial appreciation for authentic brands. According to 2013 research conducted by Mintel, close to 50 percent of millennials said they have consumed craft beer in the past. What is it about this market that is so enticing for millennials? Traditionally, a craft brewery makes smaller batches and is independently owned. For millennials, this makes craft beer feel more personal. Additionally, 82 percent of millennials say that ingredient transparency is a key factor in product selection.”

Authenticity isn’t all millennials seek. Some millennials crave status as well. Clare O’Connor (@Clare_OC) reports, “15% favor high-end billionaire-owned Patron as their tequila brand of choice.”[4] Research Analyst Heather Ward notes that the millennial penchant for authenticity is also reflected in the coffee they drink. “The reality is,” she writes, “that Gen M-ers drink more specialty coffee than any other generation.”[5]


Millennials and Shopping


Millennials joie de vivre philosophy reflects itself in how they shop and what they buy. For example, Emily Badger () reports, “Young adults, 18 to 24, who are more interested in having experiences than owning things, are ‘most excited’ about the sharing economy.”[6] As the first modern generation in the developed world that may not do better than their parents, Millennials view the sharing economy as a way to make life more affordable and more convenient. Changes in family status is also affecting how millennials shop. Older Millennials are starting their families. Patrick Kulp (@PatrickKulp) reports, “Nearly all new mothers — about 90% — were millennials last year compared to 50% a decade ago, according to Goldman Sachs. The average millennial’s age this year is 25, while that of their average first-time mother is 26.”[7] Kulp continues:

“Given [their] economic clout, experts say this new breed of parents has the potential to shake up industries across the board, giving rise to smaller innovative companies and forcing established players to evolve or be left in the dust. … Goldman finds that millennial parents gravitate towards companies with ‘authentic’ narratives that resonate with their own worldview, oftentimes bundled with social causes. Social good-themed companies such as TOMS shoes and eyewear purveyor Warby Parker are held up as examples of brands that are especially adept at reaching millennials. Jeff Fromm, co-author of Marketing to Millennials and the forthcoming Millennials with Kids, told Mashable millennial shoppers typically look for four things in brands, all else being equal: authenticity, meaningfulness, uniqueness and innovation.”

Christopher Mims (@mims) reports that technology and economic uncertainty have also played a large role in shaping what millennials buy and how they shop. “This is a generation that likes its on-demand services,” he writes, “which means the coming decades will almost certainly see more Uber rides and same-day deliveries than ever.”[8] He elaborates:

“But it’s not all good news for the tech industry. … Millennials came of age during the greatest economic crisis since perhaps the Great Depression, and like countless generations before them, it has had a major impact on their outlook. This is a generation with unprecedented levels of student debt, facing an employment landscape that is profoundly disrupted by the very mobile technologies millennials have so eagerly adopted. The decimation of manufacturing employment in America previously funneled workers into service-sector jobs, and now, as embodied by Uber, Lyft, Instacart, TaskRabbit and their peers, they’re being pushed into what Danah Boyd, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research, calls the ‘piecemeal labor force.’ The result is that many of the tech-related behaviors we associate with millennials — connecting over social networks rather than in real life, buying smartphones instead of cars — should be viewed as adaptations to difficult economic circumstances as much as an embrace of the shiny and new.”

O’Connor adds that, despite being “digital natives, “New data suggests … that the buying habits of most Millennials are still fairly analogue.”




Although numerous articles, including this one, discuss millennials in a way that it makes it appear that age is the only variable that matters, we all know that is not true. Age is only one variable that must be considered when marketing to consumers, including millennials. Millennials come in all varieties; and, variables like race, gender, religion, nationality, and so forth are every bit as important as age.


[1] Hilary Stout, “Oh, to Be Young, Millennial, and So Wanted by Marketers,” The New York Times, 20 June 2015.
[2] Cristina Maza, “As Millennials demand better meals, Big Food shifts to keep up,” The Christian Science Monitor,” 1 May 2015.
[3] Jeff Fromm, “Five Marketing Lessons For Brands In The Adult Beverage Category,” Forbes, 28 October 2014.
[4] Clare O’Connor, “Target, Tools And Tequila: Data Shows What Millennials Are Really Buying,” Forbes, 4 June 2015.
[5] Heather Ward, “The Millennial Marketplace: Shifting Values,” The Specialty Coffee Chronicle, 6 April2015.
[6] Emily Badger, “Who millennials trust, and don’t trust, is driving the new economy,” The Washington Post, 16 April 2015.
[7] Patrick Kulp, “90% of all new American mothers are millennials, and they buy things differently,” Mashable, 14 May 2015.
[8] Christopher Mims, “How Aging Millennials Will Affect Technology Consumption,” The Wall Street Journal, 17 May 2015.

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