The food industry in the US and around the world is scrambling to adapt to a younger generation’s appetite for fresher, healthier foods
college student in the 1980s may have been content living off instant noodles for dinner. Nowadays, a twentysomething is as likely to pick up a piece of wild salmon with quinoa and a fresh rocket salad from their local grocery store on any given night.
It’s a shift that’s having ripple effects throughout the food industry as manufacturers and retailers scramble to adapt to a younger generation’s appetite for fresher, healthier foods.
But their efforts aren’t creating a more sustainable industry as healthy convenience meals are often just as heavily packaged as processed products.
Sales of fruit and vegetables, meat and seafood, and prepared deli foods have risen from $257bn (£206bn) in 2009 to a forecasted $315bn in 2016, according to a report from London-based market research firm Mintel.
The shift is taking place because consumers are changing so much, and fast, says John Stanton, professor of food marketing at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. And it’s not just any consumer – millennials, those born roughly between 1982 and 2004, are driving the growth. They favour fresh, minimally processed food that is easy to prepare, says Stanton.
The power of the internet
“There used to be a slow change in how consumers behaved, but there’s a disruptive change among millennials,” according to Stanton. “Digital natives are nothing like their grandparents and not much like their own parents.”
A big factor is their unlimited access to huge amounts of information by way of the internet, he says. Millennials are exposed online to issues such as sustainable sourcing and the health effects of certain foods, and they are influenced by what their friends and public figures say on social media.