Millennial Target: Chipotle Has Fresh Appeal

chipotleRestaurants, grocery stores and food manufacturers are catching on that Millennials are into food.

Our research shows that 85% of 20-24 year olds visit a sit down casual restaurant at least once a month and 48% visit a ‘fine dining restaurant’ (defined as entrees of $20 or more) at least once a month.  Many Millennials consider cooking a hobby. When we ask our standard opening question – tell us about yourself,  cooking consistently comes up as a hobby or passion.

Cooking is my passion, I love doing it!”

“I love watching the food network.”

I’ve seriously gotten into cooking”

I now intend on taking classes to learn how to cook.”

“Cooking always matters in my life 🙂 love food!!!”

Our quantitative research provides extra evidence that this passion is shared by more than a handful of food-obsessed Julia-wannabes. Among 20-24 year olds…

  • Half say the statement “I really enjoy cooking” ‘describes me a lot’
  • One third say ‘I try to eat gourmet foods whenever I can’.
  • Forty-percent consider themselves ‘foodies’.

What matters to these young connoisseurs? Of all the claims made by restaurants, the one that is most likely to resonate is ‘fresh’. Most consider fresh produce at a restaurant ‘essential’ or ‘very important’, far outranking attributes such as ‘organic’, ‘locally grown’ and ‘natural’ and even outranking ‘homemade’.  The importance of  ‘freshness’ can be seen in their shopping behavior as well. Nearly two thirds say they purchased produce from a farmer’s market or farm stand in the past two months and 40% say they grow their own herbs.

Given this emphasis on freshness, it is no surprise that the number one casual restaurant among Millennials is Chipotle. In California, three out of five 20-24 year olds visited Chipotle in the past year, the highest penetration of any casual restaurant chain. (The next closest in visitorship is California Pizza Kitchen with about half of Millennials frequenting in the past year.)  Chipotle’s Millennial penetration is twice what it is among older age groups.

No doubt much of their success comes from their emphasis the story they have built around the freshness and integrity of their ingredients. Chipotle was among the first casual restaurants to make freshness a cornerstone of its marketing efforts.  A series of billboards currently on their web site calls out their messages of ‘gourmet’ and ‘ethical farming’. Here are a few of the headlines:

Chicken from Farms, Not Big Pharm

Farmed Friendly

Chicken Raised with Care, Not Chemicals

A Gourmet Burrito without Pretension

We’re Anti-Anti-biotics But Pro-Chicken

Pork from Farmers Not Factories

The entire Chipotle experience screams ‘fresh’ with each burrito or Buritto Bol made especially for you while you watch. The web site cleverly features web cams showing the back room care put into the preparation of ingredients. It also spends quite a lot of time explaining its ‘Food with Integrity’ approach. This “our story” blurb reads like something from Whole Foods rather than a fast casual restaurant:

 “Food With Integrity” isn’t a marketing slogan. It’s not a product line of natural and organic foods. And it’s not a corporate initiative that will ever be finished or set aside to make room for other priorities. It’s a philosophy that we can always do better in terms of the food we buy. And when we say better, we mean better in every sense of the word- better tasting, coming from better sources, better for the environment, better for the animals, and better for the farmers who raise the animals and grow the produce.

The hallmarks of Food With Integrity include things like unprocessed, seasonal, family-farmed, sustainable, nutritious, naturally raised, added hormone free, organic, and artisanal. And, since embracing this philosophy, it’s had tremendous impact on how we run our restaurants and our business. It’s led us to serve more naturally raised meat than any other restaurant in the country, to push for more sustainable practices in produce farming, and to work with dairy suppliers to eliminate the use of added hormones from their operations.

With that kind of sincerity and authenticity, it is little wonder Chipotle is a Gen Y favorite.