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Are Millennials the foodie generation?

June 12, 2014

According to a survey from The Hartman Group, 46 percent of Millennials will leave their primary store or supermarket to buy cheeses, prepared foods, specialty meats, baked foods and other deli items in specialty stores. That compares to only 35 percent of Baby Boomers who say they do the same.

CEO Laurie Demeritt revealed the findings during her talk titled "Key Shifts in Food Culture: How Consumer Preferences and Behaviors are Evolving and How to Respond" at the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association's 50th Annual Seminar and Expo in Denver.

The online survey of 850 shoppers also found:

  • Two-thirds of younger shoppers buy specialty meats in delis compared to only 45 percent of Boomers;
  • Millennials, on average, shopped at nine food stores in the past three months while Boomers visited only six.

Millennials have been described as the "foodie generation" because they seek out indulgence on one hand but are also very interested in foods that are fresh and less processed.

"They want to know more about the store behind [their food choices], where did [the food] come from, who made it and what the company stands for," Ms. Demeritt said, according to Food Business News. "They also believe they should have more of a voice, more of a say, in what's coming out in the market."

The survey comes amid several other reports exploring how Millennials are driving the evolution of food retailing, restaurants, customized menus and unique foods and flavors.

In its third in-depth consumer report on Millennials released in mid-May, Goldman Sachs said a major difference between the group and preceding generations is the "ritualization" of wellness. Goldman's research team wrote in the report that the generation puts "the 'living healthy' motivator at the center of high frequency activities like eating and physical exercise. This is distinct from gen Xers and boomers who take less direct ownership of what keeps them healthy, attributing wellness more to avoiding falling ill, being in the care of a good health professional, or sustaining an optimal weight level."

A recent Business Journals piece also detailed how Millennials are supporting the growing popularity of food trucks, expanding interest in locally-grown foods, and encouraging the explosion of "food-friendly" digital content across the internet.

Discussion Questions:

Do Millennials appear set to become much bigger foodies as they age than their Boomer parents? In what ways do you see them reshaping food retailing?

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Instant Poll:

Will Millennials become bigger foodies as they age than their Boomer parents?


Millennials have been exposed to more varieties of ethnic cooking as they have grown up, compared to their Boomer parents. Most cities and towns have a wide array of international restaurants to choose from, and the proliferation of TV shows and networks devoted to cooking has sparked the interest. Add in the Millennials' "tribal" interest in travel and experience (without stereotyping too much, I hope) and their influence on food retailing is already becoming clear.

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Dick Seesel, Principal, Retailing In Focus LLC

This seems like a mass of data searching for a Rosetta Stone.

When I was a kid growing up in a heavily Sicilian neighborhood on Detroit's east side my neighbors routinely went to a bakery, a meat market (or two), a produce market, grew their own vegetables and shopped in a supermarket. They weren't "foodies", they just had to shop in a lot of places to get what they wanted.

To say with one breath that for Millennials the body is the temple of the soul while noting with the next that said temple is often decorated with sliders and marginal tacos from food trucks is to sort of miss the point.

What would we find if we looked at fast food consumption among Millennials and Boomers? Or soft drink consumption?

Of course younger shoppers are more food conscious (on some levels) than their parents but the choice and range of products is also greater and food choices are a function of habit.

I wouldn't look so much to what food a generation is consuming as I would to what media they consume and what emphasis that media places on food.

Quinoa is the new T-bone, the media approved signal to the external world that its consumers are hip, slick and cool in the same way that over-oaked, fruit-bomb red wines (which one could not have given away 30 years ago) are the new Scotch.

Food is fashion and media lives on new content.

Is not the Millennials that are doing the shaping here. Like their dutiful Boomer parents, they are just eating what they are sold ... er ... sorry ... told.

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Ryan Mathews, Founder, ceo, Black Monk Consulting

Never can understand some of these "special studies" that cover a small group of Millennials. So these Millennials — many of whom have huge college debts and trouble finding work — have the time and the extra money to shop at special, higher priced stores. Hmm ... sounds like a simple trend that will peak and crash.

I have been eating supermarket food for over 50 years and am healthier than most of my kids and their friends (they were not in the special survey group).

Shopping at a supermarket deli is smart. Overspending at some specialty food store is not — unless you have the right income for it ... even if it does makes you "cool".


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Tom Redd, Global Vice President, Strategic Communications, SAP Global Retail Business Unit

Yes, and the opportunity will be for traditional grocery stores to become more non-traditional and offer a greater variety of farm-to-table foods that are local and organic. There will still be times when Millennials will want to go to smaller shops for cheese and baked goods but in order for supermarkets to cater to this group as they age, they better start doing so now. Eventually even Millennials get older, and they will want to stop going to three stores or more to complete their shopping trip.

Perhaps another question for another day would be, "why are we so hell-bent on studying the habits of Millennials?"

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Zel Bianco, President, founder and CEO, Interactive Edge

Millennials have grown up in an environment that is different from the one in which the Boomers grew up. Boomers saw the introduction of McDonald's and fast food restaurants. Millennials saw the introduction of Whole Foods and other organic products. Millennials have different tastes and habits. What makes news is the fact that they are becoming a larger group than Boomers, so companies have to market differently to this group. That will come as a surprise to all the companies that have not yet adopted a consumer-centric approach.

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Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D., President, Global Collaborations, Inc.

We may not be defining "Foodies" correctly. To me, a "Foodie" is someone who thinks about, talks about and explores food experiences. They try new recipes just because they are new. They go to restaurants just because they sound like a new food discovery.

I believe what we are talking about is how a Millennial sees food versus a Boomer. The mantra for many Millennials is, "don't eat it if it is cooked by a corporation." The similar mantra for Boomers is, "if a corporation has developed it, it has to be good."

My kids are a bit past Millennial, but they and their friends know and care so much more about food, how its made, what the ingredients are, etc.

Laurie Demeritt nails it. "They want to know more about the store behind [their food choices], where did [the food] come from, who made it and what the company stands for ... They also believe they should have more of a voice, more of a say, in what's coming out in the market."

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Gene Detroyer, Professor, Independent

Millennials are reshaping the retail landscape to a great degree - because they really don't spend as much time as Boomers in the kitchen. I do think that may change a bit as a percentage of them have children, but they'll never be a duplicate group to the Boomers. Retailers will be well-served to be very attentive to their needs, and to communicate with (read as listen to) this cohort. The risks are very high if this is ignored.

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Anne Howe, Principal, Anne Howe Associates

If there is any reshaping, which I doubt because this survey does not include enough data to prove it, I think it will take us back to the parents' generation when food was purchased in stores specializing in what one wanted. If you wanted bread, you went to a bakery; meats, to a butcher, etc.

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Ed Rosenbaum, CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions

Baby Boomers and my grandparents were the original foodies, only today cable TV sings the praises of chefs who learned from their grandparents. The exposure of what is available to eat is the reason some Millennials seem hip to trying something new. The truth is that the great foods that this generation rave about, my mom was eating in 1935. Peasant food my father ate, like dandelion salad, and beans and greens are now gourmet at high end restaurants, which makes them seem cool.

Yes, there are some awesome chefs who put unique twists on foods and blend international flavors together, but it is just presented better to the public through social media, and sites like recipe.com. I am glad that this generation is revisiting what I had the pleasure of eating every day, and I always look for those unique family restaurants in my travels; ones that put out food like my family did growing up.

Nothing new, but the appreciation for great food is now there for the public to enjoy, if you can find it in your town. Mangia! Mangia!

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Tony Orlando, Owner, Tony O's Supermarket & Catering

Millennials grew up with cooking shows and online videos that show how to make nearly everything. Combine that with the rise of ethnic markets and you've got a perfect storm for adventurous eating experiences. QSRs, take note: Millennials want more ethnic choices.

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Cathy Hotka, Principal, Cathy Hotka & Associates

I have the pleasure to meet and discuss product content and capabilities with the full spectrum of consumer demographics on a daily basis.

The Millennial Generation is always prepared with a full overview of technical data as well as feature and benefit information for whatever first-time buy they are planning to invest in. This information is only as good as the origin and its relative accuracy and may be subject to not being up to date. Many of the comparative or scientific test methods used in to support the information they have trust in is not always the most reliable and/or accurate. This generation is willing to entertain a well documented alternative solution and will use word of mouth social media to spread the enlightenment if they are convinced to own an alternative solution.

Retail companies focused on maintaining margin levels will find it very difficult to become full service to the Millennial Generation's needs and wants. As for how to use social media, retailers might wish to listen to wants and trends from the market via social media instead of supplying information that may be considered misleading or an annoyance to this generation. Kind of like listening to learn what the customer wants and will go elsewhere to get at whatever lowest price they must pay.


While I agree that millennials are largely more focused on healthy foods and also have much broader exposure, they are also at an age where they are curious and still exploring.

I remember being that age and discovering a shop that made their own sausages. I am a "dog" of any kind fan, so this was heaven to me. Also, instead of going to the grocery store for salad makings, I used to buy lettuce then go to a nearby deli with a great salad bar and pick out all my toppings to take home.

Hey, I was on my own and trying new things. As I aged and had other pulls on the ole wallet, this all changed.

So, I just say, there are several ways to look at this. And that's my 2 cents.

Lee Kent, Sharing Insights for Success in Retail, YourRetailAuthority

Foodies? I don't think Millennials are likely to out-fetishize Boomers in that department. But it's not at all surprising to confirm that those in the younger group prefer to assemble their own best solutions from a variety of available food stores.

What has me scratching my head a little is what is meant here by specialty food stores. Does that mean a mainstream supermarket, a Whole Foods, an Asian market, Trader Joe's, and the farmers market? Stand-alone butchers, fishmongers, bakeries and delis are increasingly hard to find in most communities these days. (Chain bagel shops don't count!)

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James Tenser, Principal, VSN Strategies

Few of the respondents here seem very impressed, and I'm sorry to say, I'm not either. It's the same problem we always have: you can't separate inter-generational differences from intra-generational (i.e. age-related) differences based on a single study. The Hartman study also links together disparate items: whereas buying a specialty cheese, etc. suggests to me a certain culinary ambition, buying a "prepared food" suggests a lack of it.

But regardless of who's buying, we'll likely see a continuation of recent trends. Even mainstream retailers will expand their "specialty" offerings (albeit homogenized and dumbed-down versions of them).


Something came to mind as I read this story. Although the following example is an un-scientific study of one scenario, I can remember my mother and others in her age group (those folks older than Baby Boomers, born prior to 1946) having shopped at category-specific food stores in my early years (e.g., butcher, bakery, etc.). At a time when seemingly most food was prepared in the home, we now have a similar trend, perhaps emerging globally, where younger people are now returning to those specialty food shops to prepare more food in the home, once again. As a baby Boomer, I can admit to evolving from the original TV dinners to drive-throughs to carry-out meals. So, I don't profess to be a foodie, inasmuch as the term is getting defined today.

I think there are great examples of food stores that are catering to foodies by having deeper assortments in trendy categories, like cheese, wine, etc.

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Ralph Jacobson, Global Retail Industry Analytics Marketing Executive, IBM

While adults my age lived through the evolution of fast food and cable news 24 hours a day, this generation has been part of the evolution of "The Food Network" and dozens upon dozens of shows focused on food, cooking, and food enjoyment. They then take this knowledge out with them to the supermarket and specialty food stores and recreate what they've seen, or create their own.

The Millennial generation is far more in tune with food quality and health, and thus is driving changes in selection throughout the entire offering of food stores. They know and look for food content. While I would be commenting on the taste of the meal, this generation would be commenting on its health content, whether it's gluten-free or not, level of carbs, calories, and so on.

So, the fact that they are buying better and going to more locations to find what they want is no surprise. This is a generation that is serious about food and will go to the extra effort to meet specific desires about what to purchase.

And Millennials seem to know the chefs by name, and are fans and followers just as any celebrity was with previous generations.


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