Don’t miss out on millennial opportunity

If you’re looking for new markets through the fading eyes of a baby boomer, you could be missing a millennial opportunity.

If you’re looking for new markets through the fading eyes of a baby boomer, you could be missing a millennial opportunity.

This was one of the insights provided by food trend expert Dana McCauley during the Potato Growers of Alberta annual conference in Red Deer on Wednesday. The well-known food writer and television personality described how the millennial generation — those born between the early 1980s and early 2000s — make up a bigger percentage of the population than the much-talked-about baby boomers.

In addition to their own direct buying power, millennials exert considerable influence over the purchasing decisions of others — most notably their aging parents, said McCauley. She added that millennials’ habits and tastes differ from those of their predecessors (generation Xers and baby boomers) and their successors (generation Zers) on the demographic continuum.

For one thing, millennials want to be more than just a consumer, she said. They’re keen to apply their own touch to food — a tendency that prompted McCain Foods Canada to launch a campaign called “Modifry,” which encourages customers to develop and share their own methods for preparing McCain’s Superfries.

“This is classic and perfect marketing to millennials,” said McCauley. “They want to be involved.”

Another company to capitalize on the millennial market is Plum Organics, which has developed an expanding range of baby, infant and children’s foods to meet the preferences of young mothers in this age group. Ingredients include quinoa, pumpkin, spinach and butternut squash.

When it comes to dining out, millennials want a unique experience, said McCauley. This helps explain the growing popularity of alternatives like food trucks and fusion restaurants.

By contrast, members of generation Z are interested in speedy service, while boomers favour places that offer convenience, like easy accessibility.

Commenting on broader food trends, McCauley noted that a growing number of people dine alone. They also snack more, consuming an increasing volume of potato chips and cheese, she said.

“Canadians eat 12.66 kg of cheese each per year. That’s a lot.”

Approximately 60 per cent of people now exclude something from their diet, such as gluten, meat or dairy. And more are scrutinizing the labels on the food they buy.

“People want that information all the time,” said McCauley. “They’re interested in protein, the saturated fats, the sodium.”

A growing number of people are also cooking at home, she said. It’s trend that’s being encouraged by new and interesting food products that make cooking fun and easy. Increased access to fresh, local ingredients at places like farmers markets also helps.

McCauley noted how alternatives to potato chips, such as lentil chips, are popping up on grocery store shelves. She thinks this reflects consumers’ desire to justify their snacking through a perception of healthy eating.

“Really, calorie for calorie, sodium milligram for sodium milligram — there’s not a big difference.”

McCauley prompted a chorus of groans when she related how cricket flour is now being used in various products, including cricket chips.

She cautioned that trends usually fall into one of two categories: pull trends that reflect genuine public interest, and push trends that result from marketing.

In a world where the Internet and social media are causing trends to evolve at a rapid rate, it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between the two, said McCauley.

“It’s super easy for somebody with deep pockets to go out to 150,000 bloggers and have them all take a picture or something and say it’s a big deal.”

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