Millennial Food and Wine Enthusiasts: Announcing A New Exploratory Study

Evidence that Millennials are food and wine enthusiasts isn’t hard to find. When my daughter, Ariella went to Hong Kong, most of her photos were of the things she ate — both before and after they were cooked. The title of her Facebook album “Adventures in Cuisine”, sort of says it all.

Two of our Millennial researchers, Sara and Marty of Portland, OR record their meals in area restaurants in a blog, and regularly post reviews on While doing taxes they “discovered a shocking amount of money was spent on dining in and out for just the two of us last year.” In March, they travelled to Ireland.

Ariella, Sarah and Marty are all fairly typical of their age group:

• According to Mintel, two out of three Millennials are Cooking Enthusiasts who make an average of 4.4 ‘elaborate’ or ‘gourmet’ meals every six months.

• Millennials’s spend a disproportionate amount of their income on food, food away from home and alcoholic beverages.

• Millennials are driving growth in the beer, wine and bourbon categories. They tend to prefer premium / imported brands.

• Millennials are trading up from fast food in their restaurant choices: 18-24 year olds were the only age group to show a decline in the average number of meals eaten at QSR’s between 2007 and 2008.

• 18-24 year olds are 17% more valuable than the average customer to the leading seven chains of casual restaurants.

With their absolute size and aggregate income expected soon to exceed that of Baby Boomers, it is critical for marketers to understand how Millennials think about their food, beer and spirits choices. But learning about Millennials, and especially trendsetters, can be tricky. They are unlikely to respond to traditional surveys, and their answers are likely to be superficial when they do. By definition, their tastes can change rapidly. They are hungry for newness, and want to know what is emerging and coming next. Because of this mindset they don’t get stuck being literal and instead thrive on new ideas and can envision how or why something not yet a part of their world might fit in.

Here’s how Marty describes his desire to stay on trend:

I think one of the challenges is always keeping a brand or product ‘new’ while maintaining the core brand characteristics that drew Millennials to it in the first place. That’s certainly true of my own experience anyway. Whether we’re eating out or I’m cooking, the underlying motivation is almost always avoiding boredom…hate doing the same things again and again. I think there’s a related tendency to want to avoid things (brands, idea, anything) that seems too mainstream. SEEMS being the key word. We’ve actually shifted our grocery shopping away from Whole Foods for that very reason, in part. All the excitement over ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ foods was new and exciting at first, but after awhile it seemed a little too..typical…like we were doing it just because it was the thing to do. Why do I want organic chicken again? What does that even mean? Why do two small chicken breasts cost me $15?

Understanding Millennial food and wine enthusiasts proves to be a very real challenge to marketers who want to learn how to make their offerings appealing. That’s why we are starting a unique research project designed to investigate these questions. Here are some of the topics we plan to investigate:

• What motivates their interest in new tastes, flavors and experiences? What is emerging in terms of new tastes, flavors and experiences? What motivates these desires?

• Where do they learn about new food, restaurants, recipes, wine and distilled spirits products? What is the role of word of mouth, on premise consumption and off premise parties? Who do they look up to for recommendations?

• How important are characteristics such as ‘organic’, ‘locally grown’ and ‘hormone free’ in their food and wine choices? Everyone talks about it, but do they do more than make more than token gestures? What exactly what are they doing? What more would they like to be doing?

• How interested are they in travel shows, cooking shows, celebrity chefs and other food and wine media? Which ones are most influential and why?

• What are their different restaurant eating occasions? What drives or triggers a night out? What do they look for in a restaurant experience and how does that vary by occasion or who they are with? How important is the dining experience relative to the food? What would get them to eat out more often?

• How is the economic downturn influencing their overall spending and brand choices? Where are they cutting back and what are they holding ‘sacred’? If they had more money, how would they spend it?

The study will focus on Millennial trendsetters who love food and wine. If you are a marketer interested in partiipating, give me a call!