Welcome to foodie nation: land of the free (from foods) and home of 80 million-plus Millennials.
Dubbed the “foodie generation,” in recent years, perhaps no other group has influenced food trends quite like Millennials. According to a report from Chicago-based market research firm Mintel, 68 percent of consumers aged 25-34 consider themselves a “foodie,” or more simply, a food enthusiast at the forefront of trending dishes and cuisines. As such, it is no surprise that this generation is shaking up the food industry.
“Millennial shoppers may choose to purchase food from a grocery store to be prepared at home, but they can also decide to order a meal kit from Blue Apron, pick up a prepared meal from the supermarket service deli or simply go out to a restaurant,” says Don Ladhoff, director of fresh sales and marketing for Black Gold Farms, based in Grand Forks, N.D.
In short, restaurants clamor to serve them, while supermarkets aspire to have a product assortment that is seemingly curated especially for these shoppers.
Quite simply, Millennial consumers, which are expected to spend $200 billion annually by 2017, cannot be ignored. Yet figuring out what they want and how they shop is not always so simple. Some industry observers claim that the way Millennials shop is completely different from generations past; while others are adamant that nothing has changed. Every generation—or person, for that matter—is different, but observers agree that Millennials seek several attributes from retailers, and having those tools in a retailer’s arsenal is key to reaching this coveted generation.
“Millennials are more conscious of food and health than other generations have been,” says Victoria Nuevo-Celeste, vice president of marketing for Sun Pacific, based in Pasadena, Calif. “They have a great desire for ‘whole,’ non- or minimally-processed foods, which means they focus more on shopping the perimeter of the grocery store, including the produce aisle.”
Fresh produce is a powerful force in the supermarket with household penetration of nearly 100 percent and $61 billion in annual sales. Fresh produce represents 32 percent of total fresh sales, according to the Power of Produce 2016, published by the Food Marketing Institute with support from Yerecic Label. Understanding how Millennials shop the produce aisle is essential for retailers looking to capture and create loyalty with this demographic.
“This isn’t a shocker, but price has the greatest influence on Millennial consumers, above other factors, including quality, brand, store and availability,” says Jacob Shafer, marketing and communications specialist for Mann Packing Co., based in Salinas, Calif. “This is in part due to the fact that Millennials have the ability to instantly price compare and geo-locate product availability, so if something is too expensive at one store, they can locate a sale on that same product in their area with relative ease.”
The Power of Produce 2016 echoes this sentiment. According to the report, Millennials emphasize price as the top-influencing factor when purchasing both fruits and vegetables. Additionally, they are two-to-seven times more likely to use some form of digital or mobile communication vehicles than Baby Boomers when researching produce prices.
Though price is the main decision influencer for this age group, retailers can still drive sales by creating an easy-to-use, value-added loyalty program, Shafer says. “For Millennial consumers, transparency within the program is key,” Shafer adds. “The program must be mobile friendly, accessible from anywhere, and easy.”
While retailers can win Millennial shoppers over with transparency about the loyalty programs they offer, observers say that consumers in this age group also seek transparency—among a number of other attributes—about the food that is stocked in a store’s produce department.
“Millennials want to know where the food is grown or packed, where the ingredients are from, and if the companies involved in the product are ‘good people’ who take care of their employees and are good stewards of the land,” says Andrea Chavez, manager of Talley Farms Fresh Harvest, based in Arroyo Grande, Calif.
In an effort to be transparent about the food in the produce section, Chavez suggests that retailers educate produce employees so they know about the produce items, as well as the farms and growers that grow them. “Support local producers who grow good quality and talk about them,” Chavez adds.
CarrieAnn Arias, vice president of marketing for Monterey, Calif.-based Dole Fresh Vegetables, notes that in addition to transparency, Millennials also look for freshness, convenience, simple ingredients, unique seasoning and the opportunity for customization and DIY inspiration as they shop the produce aisle.
“They’re more conscious about, experimental with and invested in their food then their parents,” Arias says. “However, they have more limited financial resources and preparation capabilities than previous generations.”
According to the Power of Produce 2016, Millennials place a great value on preparation time required for produce—vegetables, in particular. The study suggests that this group would be a prime candidate for value-added produce, which has grown at a pace far ahead of the total market, at 10.1 percent versus 3.9 percent for total produce and 2.5 percent for unprepared produce. Value-added produce accounted for $10.7 billion in sales in 2015, according to the Power of Produce 2016. Within the category, value-added vegetables accounted for $7.2 billion in sales, while value-added fruit earned $2.8 billion in sales.
“Since many Millennials don’t possess the same cooking skills as other generations, an emphasis on step-by-step recipes, serving suggestions and convenient-but-healthy products will reap rewards for retailers,” Arias says.
Dole, like many other growers and packers, is finding new ways to offer convenient, value-added options for consumers. The company recently introduced its Dole Chef’s Choice salad kits, which target salad lovers who enjoy preparing fresh head lettuce but want the convenience of a salad kit, says Arias. “Chef’s Choice’s emphasis on freshness, flavor-forward ingredients, easy instructions and the opportunity for hands-on preparation appeals to Millennials,” Arias adds.
Mann Packing has also recently introduced a product developed to appeal to Millennials, says Shafer. Mann’s Nourish bowls offer a healthy, convenient, warm single-serve meal with fresh veggies, grains and sauces that is ready in three-to-four minutes. “We partnered with a panel of three San Francisco Bay area chefs to help us develop the flavor profiles that include Monterey Risotto, Sesame Sriracha, Smokehouse Brussels and Southwest Chipotle,” Shafer says.
Millennials are also gravitating toward healthy, fresh snacking items, says Erin Hanagan-Muths, director of marketing for Yuma, Ariz.-based Bard Valley Date Growers, which offers the Natural Delights brand of fresh Medjool dates. “They are looking for products that are portable and fit into their busy lives,” Hanagan-Muths says.
Half of consumers say they snack two to three times per day, and 33 percent say they are snacking on healthier foods, according to a Mintel study on snacking motivations and attitudes. Additionally, the Power of Produce 2016 reveals that 68 percent of households snack on fruits, while 35 percent snack on vegetables. In fact, the report finds that snack-pack vegetables is one of the fastest-growing segments in produce.
“At Natural Delights, we focus on enlightening Millennials and all of our consumers about how our Medjool dates can fit into their days and fulfill needs in ways they may have not considered previously,” Hanagan-Muths says. “This includes positioning dates as a pre- or post-workout snacking solution, a health-conscious sugar substitute or a snack to satisfy a midday slump at the office.”
According to Nielsen, Millennials are 38 percent more likely to buy natural and organic products than their older counterparts. The Power of Produce 2016 found that 38 percent of Millennial consumers were very interested in their primary store adding more organic produce, compared to 39 percent of Gen Xers and 28 percent of Baby Boomers.
“Organic produce in particular has started to play a huge role because studies show the clear benefit in their health and well-being when compared to conventional produce,” says Fernando Bojorquez Jr., sales coordinator at Wholesum Family Farms, based in Nogales, Ariz. “Overall, Millennials are moved toward the idea that they need to buy produce that is high in quality and beneficial to them in the long run. To entice Millennial consumers, supermarkets need to have a good variety of products with high quality.”
The Power of Produce 2016 found among the ways in which supermarkets can improve their produce departments, Millennials placed a strong emphasis on “better variety of produce items.” Better everyday prices, product availability (in-stock), better promotions, sampling, better variety of specialty items (like organic, local or ethnic), better quality/freshness and cleanliness were other areas that Millennials would like to see produce departments improve.
“Millennials respond best to a well-maintained produce department stocked with fresh, pristine fruit,” Arias says. “As the Pinterest generation, Millennials value visual presentation, making produce quality more important than ever.”