Millennials, the Industry’s Growing Customer Base


Like most people, I find myself reading more and more about Millennials and their impact on the economy, including the foodservice industry. Just who are they? They are those persons born between the years 1982 and 2004. by Fred Sampson

Early this year the highly respected Pew Research Center issued a report about “The Millennials in Adulthood.” They are detached from institutions and networked with friends. The report says that Milliennials are somewhat more upbeat than older adults about America’s future: 49% of Millennials are saying that the country’s best years are ahead. They say this even though they’re the first in the modern era to have higher levels of student loan debt and unemployment. It is estimated that they represent about 90 million of the present population.

A recent report by described in detail the results of a study by the research firm of the Hartman Group for the United States Potato Board. While the study focused on how this group order and prepare potatoes, it also gave us a look at the eating behavior of Millennials. The study, taken online, consisted of 2,000 participants.

I found the information helpful in understanding their preferences; and I think you will agree, after all, that they do represent one of the largest blocks of the eating-out customer base.
55% prefer communal tables at restaurants.

  1. 68% ask friends before selecting a restaurant.
  2. 87% will splurge on a nice meal even when money is tight.
  3. 40% will order something different every time they eat in a restaurant.
  4. Millennials eat out most frequently at lunchtime.
  5. They tend to eat four meals a day, at nontraditional times of the day.
  6. 30% eat foods that are certified organic (as compared to 21% of Gen Xers and 15% of Boomers).
  7. They prefer whole foods over processed foods.
  8. They will spend more on ethically sourced meats and farm-to-table experiences.
  9. 80% want to know more about how their food is grown.
  10. Food companies among Millennials’ top most-trusted brands: Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Ben & Jerry’s, In-N-Out Burger.
  11. When shopping in grocery stores, Millennial foodies spend more on premium ingredients and are more likely to opt for small-batch handcrafted beers and artisanal cheeses than big brand names.
  12. Custom food options, such as 87,000 possible drink combinations that can be had at a single Starbucks unit, are seen as a need, not a luxury.
  13. It’s not just about nutrition for Millennials. They view food as an entitlement and self-expression.

When reviewing most surveys dealing with restaurant consumers, the following comment is almost universal. When asked, “What is most important when choosing food in general?” the top-scoring attribute was “A good value for the money,” at 36%. Good value was also top-scored when the respondent was asked what was most important when choosing food from a restaurant. Here, 39% said value matters most.

MPS/Malachy April 2016 Top

In a few words, this is what the Millennials want: Meals that are fun and exciting … yet natural and unprocessed … convenient and fast/easy … yet healthy … high quality … yet affordable.

It is not my intention to stray; however, when doing some research for this article I was struck by the realization of how we have come to give the different generations their own name. Among others, the most famous is The Greatest Generation; Generation X; and now the Millennials / Generation Y. They were almost called The 9/11 Generation; some have called them The We Generation.

They certainly are the most electronically connected generation. This allows them to convey their reactions to any issue anywhere, anytime, including their evaluation of their eating-out experiences. It is not uncommon for a new foodservice operation to open at 5:00 p.m. and by 6:30 p.m. there are eight to 10 ratings already online, on Yelp, Facebook, and other social media. Anyone who has any idea of what’s involved in opening a new location will tell you it is almost impossible to have a foolproof opening. This is really a “rush to judgment.”

The article went on to say, “When you realize that fast casual is the one restaurant category showing significant growth, we can see why.” Whether by luck or by design, the fast-casual approach delivers many of the key factors Millennials say they want.

How large is the purchasing power of the Millennials? A 2010 report from Oracle, focused on the banking sector, estimated that Millennials’ purchasing power will reach $2.25 trillion next year, and $3.38 trillion—more than that of the Baby Boomer generation—by 2018.

This, in the mind of this writer, is why the fast-casual market is growing at such a rapid rate. It’s not only gourmet burgers, but everything from barbeque to pasta to chicken, and the list goes on. A great example of this is that more and more fast-casual chains are no longer avoiding Manhattan, but fighting for locations there. And they are entering most major urban markets across the country.

The Millennial Generation has arrived. Are you ready?