The Millennial generation is now the largest living generationin the US, having surpassed the enormous Baby Boom generation in 2015. There are now over 75.4 million Millennials (roughly defined as young adults ages 20-36 in 2017), while there are 74.9 million Baby Boomers (ages 53-69 in 2017). The Baby Boom generation is shrinking, while the Millennial generation is growing, with immigration adding more Millennials than immigrants of any other generation.

The sometimes-paradoxical values of Millennials offer powerful consumer insights.

It is projected that the US will reach the "peak Millennial" milestone in the year 2036, when the Millennials will top out at around 81.1 million. It is no big mystery why brands are always talking about this generation. After all, the economic influence of Millennials is big and getting bigger. Which consumer insights about this influential generation can brands use to their benefit? Here are some thoughts.

Consumer Insights Should Consider Older and Younger Millennials

Not all Millennials are alike. Older Millennials (in their late 20s and older) were hit a bit harder by the 2008 recession than their younger Millennial siblings who are in their late teens to mid-20s. Asked how they were most likely to curb spending in an economic downturn, older Millennials said they were most likely to cut "eating out," "entertainment," and "buying clothes." This is great news for grocery retailers.

Once inside a supermarket, older Millennials were likelier than younger Millennials to use their smartphone while shopping, with nearly two-thirds of older Millennials using smartphones while shopping compared to 47 percent of younger ones. One of the main reasons they use mobile devices while shopping is to compare prices and download coupons.

Millennials: Thrifty, Yet Seekers of Experiences

In general, Millennials consider themselves thrifty, yet many of them also consider themselves to be "foodies." The grocery retailer that can appeal to both of these traits is one that will win the loyalty of the Millennial shopper. Global cuisines, novel flavors, and new ingredients are more important to Millennials than to older shoppers, and it is common for Millennials to enjoy cooking and eating for its value as an experience as much as for simple sustenance.

Supermarkets and other grocery retailers should think in terms of crafting experiences with the products they sell, while remaining pragmatic and cost-effective. Using merchandising, signage, and in-store programs that speak to new food experiences can make a positive difference.

Stores that offer locally sourced or organic products should make that evident in branding.

Sustenance and Adventure in the Millennial Generation

When asked about the factors that influence their choice of a grocery store, Millennials listed these as the top three determinants:

    • Lower costs or saving opportunities
    • Locally grown or organic product availability
  • Convenience to home or workplace

Another important factor was technology to make research and shopping easier (like digital coupons). And more than one-quarter said they shopped based on specific recipes.

But it is not just about great deals and great convenience. Millennials consider food to be an adventure, and they are more likely to seek ethnic and artisanal foods than older generations. In the spirit of food adventure, they are less likely to have a well-stocked pantry and more likely to make impulse food buying decisions.

Brand Building in a Millennial World

Food retailers that want to draw and retain Millennial customers can take numerous steps to improve their brand-building efforts.

    • Product selection should cater to those who are interested in cooking, yet likelier than other consumers to eat out. In other words, products should offer convenience.
    • A selection of ethnic, natural, and fresh foods will appeal to Millennials.
    • Signage, advertising, and online content should highlight new food experiences, which are important to this generation.
    • Locally grown, organic, and GMO-free products are other draws for Millennials.
  • Retailers should understand that Millennials rely more heavily on frozen meals than older generations and should offer variety and novelty in frozen selections.

Millennial spending power has taken off, and food retailers that want to make the most of this huge and influential generation of consumers are wise to understand Millennial consumer behaviors. Bringing an eclectic mix of thriftiness and value-seeking, along with a penchant for more adventurous foods and more socially and environmentally responsible choices, Millennials are affecting brand-building efforts in stores and online.