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Millennials want variety, boomers stick with what works

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As the saying goes, variety is the spice of life. But not everyone places the same emphasis on changing their food and beverage choices all the time.

By Darren Seifer, Food & Beverage Industry Analyst, The NPD Group

As we think about what motivates occasions in consumers’ minds, it’s important not to treat all users of your products as a monolithic group.

If we look at occasion motivations over an average day for a typical consumer, we see shifting priorities as the day progresses. Mornings are often motivated by a need for healthfulness and other practical considerations such as a desire to get certain nutrients or to tide ourselves to the next meal. As we move toward the hurried lunchtime our focus shifts to speed and portability. Given the time crunch most of us experience during at mid-day, we need to be able to assemble and consume lunch in a hurry and carry it to another location. By the time we get home for dinner, healthfulness loses focus and we want to satisfy cravings.

If we only looked at motivations at that level, however, we wouldn’t get the complete picture of how to satisfy all consumers’ needs. While that provides a broad backdrop, with Boomers and Millennials, for example, there are additional nuances that require slightly different language when communicating with them.

Boomers’ needs are complex. They cite a variety of motivations for their meals, which can at times seem contradictory but are all part of their expanded need states. This generation is at a stage when health plays a major role in many aspects of their daily routines. They’re facing many issues such as heart health, diabetes, and inflammation, so they’re cautious about consuming foods that could exacerbate those health issues. When we examine Boomers’ motivations, our National Eating Trends® (NET®) information shows that like most everyone, health plays an important role in Boomers’ morning occasions, but they also stress routine and consuming their favorites during this time. This suggests they like to stick with what they know and what will keep them healthy, rather than trying new items that could upset the delicate balance of good health.

What might seem contradictory among Boomers is that they are also motivated by indulgence. This is the only generation where we see consumption of sweet snack foods increasing. It begs the question: Why would a group that is so motivated to maintain health also look for sweets and indulgences? It seems they are trying to balance their restrictive healthy behaviors by rewarding themselves for being good the rest of the day.

Millennials, on the other hand, are far less concerned about routine in what they consume. Their health concerns are more about maintenance given their life stage, while Boomers are more focused on existing health conditions. Millennials’ breakfasts, for example, are strongly motivated by nutrition, but they select a variety of options because they are less fearful of a negative health impact.

Costs concerns are more prevalent among Millennials. While the Great Recession has ended, economic concerns still create havoc in their financial well-being. Unemployment rates are higher among these younger adults compared to other consumer groups, and even if they can find work many have student loans and other debts, making their food budgets fairly tight – along with their overall budgets. At the same time, they use more fresh foods and beverages compared to other generations when they were the same age. Marketers should focus their efforts on providing this generation easy solutions that are either fresh or can accompany a fresh product, while helping them stay within a small budget.