Millennials’ Love Affair with Food

TNGGIf you are a food marketer trying to figure out the 18-25 year old market, you won’t want to miss what’s been happening this week at The Next Great Generation blog (#TNGG on Twitter). All week has been ‘Food Week’. A dozen young bloggers have contributed personal and revealing essays on how they think about food. Think “Slate-magazine-meets-market-research-community” and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Studies have shown there has been a generational shift in the way young adults relate to food. They were exposed to better food at home, in restaurants and through travel with their Boomer and Gen X parents.  In their lifetimes, there has been an explosion in new tastes from greater accessibility to ethnic foods, TV cooking shows, specialty food stores, and not but certainly not least, Internet how-to and recipe sites. There was no Food Channel when I was learning to cook.  I am embarrassed to admit how much Velveeta I ate in college. (Velveeta is shelf-stable in case you didn’t know.).  I never met a garlic clove or realized salad dressing didn’t have to come in a bottle until graduate school.

Here are some of the highlights of this week’s experiment at TTNG relevant to food marketers. Think of it as an early Christmas present:

Cooking and Shopping

Matthew Nolet, “Cooking From a Book is So Last Century”Like so many of my generation and beyond, I believed that the art of cooking was best left to others: parents, professionals, and McDonalds. However, when the moment of edible reality hit me, I found myself completely overwhelmed by cups, teaspoons, garlic, and French culinary vocabularies  It was the confidence of Bobby Flay, the simplicity of Rachel Ray, and the “how-to” approach of Alton Brown that brought me and so many others back from the brink of dietary disaster. With the invention of the cooking show and the celebrity chef, the process of cooking, baking, and assembling meals has moved from being simply a domestic exercise into an expression of creativity, devotion, and skill. The secrets of soufflés, emulsions and sauces no longer escape or confuse us. By following our favorite television chefs, we have been able to discover the ability within ourselves to create great works of delicious art. As a result, we have found ourselves with a new form of celebrity. Fandom is no longer reserved simply for athletes and movie stars.  The celebrity chef now holds a devoted spot within the American psyche and television channel listing. Their restaurants are packed nightly and their faces are recognizable. Top Chef makes chefs into celebrities. The Next Food Network Star makes the everyman into a chef into a star. Food now fulfills a larger role than simply as sustenance; it is entertainment and it is impressive. As a result, food and the creation thereof is now “cool” and a highly desirable skill amongst the general masses. Now almost four years later and hundreds of Food Network episodes later, I enjoy cooking for a biweekly dinner involving close friends where we try new recipes, new techniques, and chastise each other for both our failures and successes.”



Zoe Meeran, “Cooking by Nose” “Like many of my friends I don’t grocery shop particularly often, and certainly not in the middle of the week. When I do go to the store, I buy foods that I can use in more than one dish. Vegetables, lemons, ground beef.  Most of the time, I just don’t think to plan out my meals, but in addition to that I’ve always been an innovator. My love affair with Top Chef has me wondering what I can whip up using vegetable stock, corn and black bean salsa, spices, and only one hand (tortilla soup – GO!). I like the challenge of combining unexpected flavors – if, for example, you haven’t tried watermelon and balsamic vinegar, put the laptop down and head to your local farmer’s market now.”

Food Brand Loyalty and Love marks

Dan Rosenberg, “My Cheatin’ HeartWhen given the choice between two parity brands, love can only go so far. And I’m not alone. There are a precious few who really won’t accept Pepsi instead of Coke, or will pay that extra dollar and cross the street to go to McDonalds instead of Burger King. If you want to get an all-things-equal-and-controlled study of brand loyalty, go to the corner of Boylston and Tremont Streets in Boston where a Starbucks and a Dunkin’ Donuts are separated by no more than a 50-foot stretch of asphalt. Here, you’ll see the hipsters and theatre-goers choose which brand of coffee gives them the buzz they love…A competitors discount, a picky friend or even the wafting smell of burritos in the wind can lure me away from the brands I claim to love. Man is a fickle beast, and my dolla-dolla billz have no discretion. But certain brands have a stronger hold than others. Everyone has their preferences, but they also have the brands that they choose to define themselves by: their “My” brands. Much in the way Miley shouts “they’re playing my jam” about the Jay-Z song that made her butterflies fly away, these are the brands that do everything right. When interacting with these brands, everything becomes right in the world. If I had to pick, my “My” brands would include Tropicana Orange Juice and Heinz Ketchup. They’re delicious and remind me of home, but I’ve cheated on them too. Damned if it doesn’t leave me with a bad taste in my mouth.”


David Ricaud, “Sex and PizzaCould pizza be what unites generation Y with its predecessors? Sex. Entitlement. Self-involvement. To me, these are the three qualities that other generations use to set themselves apart from millennials. The boomers think we are oversexed (maybe we are!) and undervalue some inherent meaning to sexual relations. Gen-Xers, the slackers, say we feel a sense of entitlement to good grades and great jobs. And they all think we are self-focused and value careers over friends and family. “You kids have no roots,” a 68-year-old New Yorker said to me. Pizza, though, connects us to the slackers, reformed hippies, and WWII heroes. At dinner, my gen-X brothers, my baby boomer parents, and my great generation grandmother show the same appreciation for this simple triangular delicacy. Dough, mozzarella, and tomato sauce form a timeless American classic—one that, even when we judge our children and grandchildren, will continue to unite us all.”

Bottled Water

Melanie Wong, “I’m Sorry This Water Is Reserved for Special People Voss water is only available in some specialty stores, namely in Whole Foods. An admirer of good minimalist design, a bottle of Voss water costs around $3.14 plus tax. If I was to consumer just one bottle a day, that would amount to $1,146.10 a year. A thousand dollars a year on a small bottle of water in a glass. What insanity! But look at the bottle, with its sleek, elegant design. The embossed “VOSS” lettering on the bottle with a silver screw on top. With my love for gray and minimalist design, Voss water is my savior in a world of strange colors and comic sans lettering.Bottled water in any form also carries an image in each of their bottles. Fiji and Evian carry a sense of exotic faraway-ness that watch and car companies also embody. Aquafina, the official sponsor of the MLB carries a pure, water-for-athletes image that may appeal to people who are more active. Companies place stronger brand identity to everyday items like bottled water than products that speak for themselves like Midol, Kleenex, or Crayola. This branding effort does not go unnoticed for marketing majors like myself. I want to become one with the luxury and exoticism of Fiji and Voss water, because carrying around bottles of water with a brand, associates myself with it.

Eating Healthy

Adam Di Stefano, “Toxic Foods” “My previous eating habits were fairly representative of my generation, but they are without a doubt a function of our lifestyle.  In a world where fast food isn’t fast enough, we take shortcuts and it comes at a cost.  If at my age I was already feeling the impacts of my food choices, I can only imagine what I would feel like in my 30s, 40s or 50s. I’m not alone in recognizing this, though.  We’re in the midst of a fundamental shift in the way people perceive their relationship with food.  The tail end of my generation is coming of age in a time where McDonald’s has salads on the menu, and Happy Meals come with apple slices.  While our parents’ generation is the McDonald’s generation, we may well be remembered as the Whole Foods generation.  We have the motivation.  We’ve witnessed what a generation that grew up in the golden age of fast food has led to: record levels of obesity and cardiac problems being the number one killer in North America. A generation ago, a vegan, or an organic farmer was a hippie, a fringe character.  Now, they may not be the majority, but they’re mainstream minorities.  We’re a generation that understands food labels.  We know what organic means.  We’ve turned movies like Supersize Me and Food Inc. into blockbusters.With every passing day, more and more Gen-Yers are going to come to the same conclusion I did, that we need to stop treating our bodies like dumpsters, and change the way we interact with food.  Gen-Y is the generation that is going to reclaim our relationship with food as being sacred.  No more toxic junk.  Bring on the real food.”

Kristin Fritz, “The Real Risks of Real Food”My mom has never used a crock-pot or Hamburger Helper. She never served Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and is proud that my brother and I were exposed to different foods growing up. The most exciting part about getting my first apartment was the kitchen and not having to rely on a dining hall anymore. I proudly adopted some of my mom’s cooking habits while discovering a few tricks of my own. Even so, my skills need improvement, so it’s nice to know I can call home when a question comes up. Food awareness is a popular trend right now. With the movie release of Food Inc. and Jonathan Safran Foer’s new book, Eating Animals, it’s evident that more people today care about where their favorites foods come from.In order to lead a more proactive lifestyle I’ve decided to pay more attention to what I eat. Whether at home prepping dinner or at a restaurant I believe it’s smart to carefully consider food options before taking that big bite.”

Colby Gergen, “Fast Food Frenzy I’ve managed to hide my fast food findings from my pantry so far. I don’t think it suspects a thing. …The problem is, I don’t want to leave my pantry. It’s been great to me. And for everyone else. I feel great when I spend time with it, my friends dolphin, deer, and eagle all thank me, and the buttons on my jeans get along great with my pantry. Sure, I may not always enjoy it. There are definitely times when I’ve been with my pantry but thinking about Wendy (or Sonic, the Queen, Colonel, etc). But even when I stray, I always come back to my pantry. I know that it will always be there. As a whole, we have a rock solid relationship. There’s a future, a long one, with my pantry. I don’t see that long of a future when I’m with the King (or the Bell, Five Guys, Hardee, and so on). So I stay true, for the most part, to my pantry. I know that in the long run, I’ll be better for it. Even if there are some rough batches, err, patches.”


Online Delivery

Mariam Shahab, “Enough of the Paper Menus” We’ve matured from the days of ramen noodles satisfying our mere hunger pangs, and upgraded to relying on delivery to satiate our palates. When searching for food delivery, one-stop shop sites like Campusfood, and Grub Hub have marked their territory. Since we’re all hyper-connected but shy of actually speaking on our phones, online delivery is a natural fit for my generation. A run-down of the big players in the race for the delivery game:

  • attests itself as the largest virtual food court in the country with a 2000 plus network of restaurants. Campus food is also the savviest user of cultivating relationships with their customer base. They created a Facebook app called Food Friendzy based on the idea that playing online games and sharing the app can lead to wining free food.
  • Grub Hub has occupied the green food delivery site niche: they buy carbon offsets on all orders and make it simple to decline extras (i.e. – plastic utensils and paper napkins).
  • centers itself based on efficiency and convenience. The site saves your favorite restaurants and previous orders for simpler reordering.

There’s much more on the TTNG site, about Ben and Jerry’s, about binge eating, dieting (different article thank goodness), the coolness of healthy foods as well as the full articles on the topics above. Check it out.

With insights this good, marketers can only hope they tackle adult beverages next!