According to Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me, millennials (Generation Y) are a self-absorbed, confident yet open-minded generation, more demanding than their parents ever were.
It sounds negative, but consider a generation who knows what they want, particularly what foods they want to consume. One need not go further than a grocery store to see the change. Where once there were just apples and oranges, beef and chicken, foods are now distinguished as being locally produced/organic/kosher/halal/gluten-free/fair trade and my favorite “exotic foods,” to cater to an ever diversifying market. It reflects a generation who considers food purchase and consumption as a vote to revolutionize a system, creating niches which seemingly have not existed before.
Here are some of the growing trends in the food industry that millennials are helping shape:
Millennials are taking a closer look where and how food is produced. The rise of organic food is perhaps the most prevailing of these trends, but locally produced food is not far behind. The organic food movement continues to grow, in part due to heightened awareness surrounding the potential environmental and health impacts of current agricultural practices. Layers of pesticides sprayed on produce and hormone-treated meats are not appealing to millennials who are willing to pay a premium for quality products.
Some of these notions feed into the local food movement, and the fact that millennials value their communities. Locavores support their own farmers receiving a larger cut of the profits from their sale and being able to operate outside of large agri-business networks. Buying local often means fresher products and in some cases can offset the harmful environmental impacts of global imports.
Healthy Options and Performance Eating
Millennials are more conscious than ever of how food affects their health. The obesity and diabetes epidemics have cast food in a negative spotlight and millennials have demanded healthier choices. The “skinny” lattes at Starbucks are just the beginning. National pressure for nutritious foods and heightened awareness about the negative implications of fats, sugars and salts has transformed food labeling.
Millennials look to foods rich in certain vitamins and minerals to support peak performance. Studies demonstrate that millennials believe that protein is the most important component of healthy eating, but are also interested in switching to healthier oils and consuming nutrient super foods like sweet potatoes, kale, quinoa and blueberries.
Food For A Multicultural Society
The world is getting smaller and growing minorities are forming a generation more ethnically diverse than other age groups. Having options at restaurants and markets is extremely appealing for millennials, resulting in the now-normal appearance of the “international isle” featuring starfruit, nappa and pomello.
Specialty breads and cheeses are also on the rise and grocery stores and restaurants alike are trying to keep up with millennials seeking to try new tastes from Africa, Asia and South America. Luckily, some of these foods are starting to be produced locally, but imports still dominate markets, mostly for their cheaper prices.
It’s not clear what is causing food allergies to be on the rise, but the increased prevalence has spurred a new food market. Lactose/casein sensitivity and intolerance has led scientists to invent new lines of soy milks, rice cheeses and almond yogurts. Peanut/nut allergies have reached such heights that peanut foods are all but banned from schools. In 20 years, snacks for children may have to be gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free, nut-free….leaving perhaps broccoli as the choice snack of cool kids, but until then, grocery stores and restaurants have expanded their shelves and menus to accommodate millennials’ dietary needs. These options are no longer restricted to Whole Foods and even Chili’s has produced a suggested menu to avoid certain allergens.
Unfortunately, “casting a vote with your fork” for a changed food system is sometimes limited to the elite. These trends cost cash and where a significant portion of the country lives in food deserts, where access to food is severely impeded; consuming adequate fruits and vegetables is a challenge, let alone those that are culturally appropriate or locally produced. These are populations who may value “good food,” but do not have the purchasing power to further the food movement and change. This is food for thought to those who care about an inclusive food revolution, one that is accessible to all socio-economic categories.
Photo Credit: Nadira Saleh