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Millennials, Big Data, and Food

November 29, 2017


Millennials (aka Generation Y) are currently the “it” generation for manufacturers, marketers, and retailers. Members of Generation Y are probably the most studied generation that has ever lived. As digital natives they have generated oceans of data about themselves and that data is continually being analyzed. Nevertheless, generalizations about any generation should be viewed skeptically. Simply because people are born between certain years doesn’t make them all alike. Variables like gender, location, educational attainment, employment, marital status, race, and religion blend to make people unique. On the other hand, you can’t deny facts. Deborah Weinswig (@debweinswig), Managing Director of Fung Global Retail & Technology, reports, “Young American adults have put off establishing families and setting up households longer than any generation has previously. More and more millennials have opted to live with their parents longer, defer marriage and buy houses at a later age.”[1] Things, however, are changing. Weinswig writes, “American millennials are finally establishing households.”


Millennials and Big Data


Because members of Generation Y are digital natives (i.e., they have grown up using digital devices), they are fully aware data is being collected from their devices. Analysts from Telefónica note, “The Millennial generation is happy to embrace the concept of Big Data — with three quarters saying they fully understand the types of information and data that companies collect and share about them.”[2] They harbor the same concerns about privacy and misuse of data as everyone else; but, they also appreciate the benefits derived from big data analytics. Jeff Wells (@JeffWellsWH) reports, “Seventy percent of millennial shoppers are okay with companies tracking their purchases and browsing their shopping behavior if it means they’ll get more targeted communications, according to a study by behavioral marketing firm SmarterHQ.”[3] He adds, “Although millennials are receptive to having their shopping habits tracked, they don’t want marketers to overdo it. Seventy-four percent said they get frustrated by too many marketing communications, while 70% say they want personalized offers such as sales notification for previously carted products.”


The Domesticated Millennial


Wells notes domestication is changing Gen Y consumers in a number of ways, including an increase in the number of them joining club stores. He writes, “Examining why millennials are increasingly shopping for bulk goods in warehouse-style stores is instructive for marketers. For starters, club operators like Costco offer a fun in-store experience, complete with food samples and frequently rotating merchandise. Older millennials with families are flocking to club stores to buy boxes of diapers, tubs of formula and other baby essentials.” Carolyn Heneghan reports the food industry is taking notice of the domesticated Gen Y consumer. She explains, “Millennial moms are a major target for food and beverage brands in terms of marketing and product development, according to a new report from FONA International. Because nearly half of female millennials are mothers and 71% of them work outside the home, products [targeting Gen Y moms] need to be high quality, nutritious and convenient to meet their lifestyle needs. Millennial moms also tend to prefer big box retailers where they can buy multiple items they need in one stop, instead of going several places in a shopping trip.”[4]


Just because Gen Y parents are shopping at club and big box stores, it doesn’t mean their shopping habits are the same as their parents. As a result, Consumer Packaged Goods manufacturers have been struggling with how to reach Gen Y parents and earn brand loyalty. The loyalty picture is fuzzy for millennials. The SmarterHQ survey found “just 6.5% of millennials consider themselves brand loyal” while “a 2015 study by news site Elite Daily, [found] 50.5% of millennials say they’re extremely loyal or quite loyal to their preferred brands.”[5] One reason brand loyalty may be waning is because Gen Y parents don’t serve their families as much processed food as older generations did. As a result, reports Lisa Wright, “Processed food companies — producers of anything that comes from a box or a can — are looking for ways to grow amid trends toward healthier and fresher eating.”[6] Campbell Canada president Ana Dominguez, told Wright, “Consumers are changing. Changing demographics, socio-economics, family structures, tastes are all impacting how we do business. … We need to ensure that we continue to align our actions and our products with consumer needs and wants in order to stay relevant. … Consumer eating patterns are changing, too — they are seeking fresher, less processed food, they are more aware of ingredients and they have higher expectations.”


Caroline Macdonald reports the flavor firm McCormick & Company is optimistic about its future targeting Gen Y consumers. She reports, “McCormick has a savvy growth strategy centered on tracking emerging consumer trends and either altering existing products or launching new ones in response. … McCormick has said it intends to capitalize on millennials’ interest in ethnic flavors and home cooking.”[7] Keeping up with changing preferences and eating habits can be daunting. Fortunately, cognitive computing platforms, like the Enterra Enterprise Cognitive System™ (ECS) — a system that can Sense, Think, Act, and Learn® — can help manufacturers and retailers understand changing patterns down to neighborhood preferences. Enterra’s unique Sensory Identification system employs an innovative scientific method to create highly accurate data representations of the way an ingredient, product or recipe tastes and smells. These identifiers are used to precisely target products and recipes to individuals and households whose preferences match these data representations. Our Sensory Identification solutions can ingest survey data, retailer POS, loyalty data, along with ClickStream behavioral data, to create a personalized sensory profile for an individual’s or household’s taste and smell preferences. This provides deep market intelligence that allows CPG manufacturers and marketers to create highly targeted and effective campaigns. Our SensoryMap™ solution provides companies an easy-to-understand way to visualize consumption and demand patterns by geography.




Heneghan cautions manufacturers and retailers that targeting Gen Y consumers has both its benefits and drawbacks. “As prevalent as this generation and their food and beverage needs are,” she writes, “manufacturers still need to consider whether this is their target demographic or if another consumer segment may better appreciate a particular product or marketing campaign. Focusing on millennial moms could alienate other members of a brand’s consumer base or even alter consumers’ perceptions of that brand, so this decision is one to be made after considerable deliberation over target consumers and who is most likely to become brand loyal.” A good cognitive computing system can help manufacturers and retailers make some of these tough decisions.


[1] Deborah Weinswig, “Millennials Are Finally Forming Households: What It Means For Retailers,” Forbes, 18 September 2017.
[2] Telefónica Staff, “Millennials Get Big Data: Survey,” Light Reading, 15 October 2014.
[3] Jeff Wells, “Report: Millennials are comfortable with purchase tracking if it leads to better deals,” Food Dive, 29 August 2017.
[4] Carolyn Heneghan, “Why millennial moms are the current ‘it’ demographic,” Food Dive, 21 December 2016.
[5] Wells, op. cit.
[6] Lisa Wright, “Food companies vie for Millennials,” Toronto Star, 7 December 2015.
[7] Caroline Macdonald, “Millennial habits drive rapid innovation at McCormick,” Food Dive, 19 April 2017.

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