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Q & A: Marketing To Millennials

Millennials have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. Most are not active participants but spend more of their time looking at others’ posted content.

Laurie Demeritt, President and COO, Hartman Group, Inc.

Marketing food and beverage products is a science significantly affected by the age of the consumer. One of the more unique markets today is the Millennial, or the consumer age 16 to 30. Food Manufacturing spoke with Laurie Demeritt of the Hartman Group, which recently released a report titled Culture of Millennials 2011: An Immersive Investigation into a Unique Generation, about some of the key factors of the marketing to this generation.

Q: What are some of the key findings from the report?

A: Marketers and brand managers faced with the challenge of marketing to Millennials should look to the dynamics of household structure for effective ways that influence path to purchase for their products. In our study, we find that Millennials are linked as consumers to complex household and family structures, whether by the breadth of the lifestages they represent (age range 16 to 30), living with their parents as young adults or on their own with or without children, all of which influence changes in brand preferences in foods, beverages and other consumer packaged goods categories.
Other key findings include:

  • There are three primary ways in which Millennials differ from other generations: They have a greater self-awareness and self-focus; a heightened interest in travel; and they are comfortable with technology in a way that reflects its importance in their daily lives.
  • Millennials have significant spending power yet most are saving very little: Those who are lower-income are still spending significantly (on travel, technology) and are not savings-oriented.
  • While older consumers have caught up with — and surpassed — Millennials in using the Internet for shopping, Millennials are leading the smartphone charge using web-enabled phones to gather information and make purchases at triple and double the rate, respectively, when compared to Boomers.

Q: How does household and family structure influence Millennial purchasing decisions?

A: Whether as teenagers or young adults living with their parents or living on their own with or without children, a range of lifestages and household structures influence Millennial brand preferences. For example, when leaving home, Millennials begin to shift their brand preferences away from the brands they grew up with: One out of five Millennials switch almost entirely to different brands when they move out on their own. Yet, 29 percent of Millennials shift back toward their parents’ brands after having children (Figure 1).


Figure 1: Lifestage and household structure influence food choices among Millennials. Source: Culture of Millennials, Hartman Group, 2011


Q: What food and beverage trends are most popular with Millennials?

A: Millennials view themselves as different from their parents in terms of tastes in foods and beverages. When asked to characterize food and beverage brands they currently use in comparison to those of their parents, Millennials overall view their choices as healthier, more natural and organic and less processed — and also more expensive. Among Millennials, food as a whole is something with which to experiment. In general, they are apt to be more adventurous when it comes to trying new foods and dining out. This adventurous spirit extends beyond going out to eat and into the kitchen and cooking. Millennials are also leading the charge on vegetarian eating: They are 50 percent more likely than older consumers to be full-time vegetarians.

Q: How can food and beverage manufacturers market effectively to Millennials?

A: Of the 39 percent of Millennials who indicate that they want brand relationships, many are most interested in categories that contribute to their own image: fresh foods, personal care products, local grocers and electronics. We believe that brands and agencies should rethink and reimagine how they market to them. One of the most effective ways to connect with Millennials, in fact, may be in not marketing directly to them. Millennials don’t want to be advertised to, they want to be advertised with. Some of the most popular ad campaigns to Millennials have almost nothing to do with the product itself; they are about fun, whimsy and, most importantly, entertainment.

Q: How large of a role does social media play when it comes to influencing the purchasing decisions of Millennials?

A: Millennials have a love/hate relationship with Facebook: Most are not active participants (posting, commenting, etc.) but spend more of their time “creeping” or looking at others’ posted content. For those who use it, Millennials are accessing Facebook at least once per day, some every hour and some even more frequently. However, many Millennials believe Facebook is time waste. This opinion was held most strongly by younger Millennials we spoke with (ages 16-18). Overall, Millennials understand why companies are on social networking sites (Facebook especially), but they actively dislike it, making comments like “It’s annoying” and “It’s so stupid—just because I ‘like’ you, it’s probably because I wanted the discount you were offering for my doing so.”

In terms of influencing purchase decisions, when they hear about something from a friend, most will also do a search of that product or tip for more thorough information. Specifically, online reviews are an incredibly important source of information for Millennials who say they find it frustrating to buy from websites without them.

Q: How are Millennials impacting the future of the food and beverage industry?

A: Millennials are truly complex when we consider what their impact will be on the future of the food industry. Overall, we would say they will continue to influence the culture of food in their raised expectations for higher quality food and beverage experiences (seeking cues around freshness, natural, organic, less processed and global). Yet, there is no such thing as a typical Millennial “day of eating”: Despite eating as regularly as older consumers, Millennials are more flexible in their eating routines. While Millennials will be the first generation to be raised under the mantra of "fresh/less processed" they may choose to eat (in their words) “unhealthy”— and they may well do so very, very frequently. They will also forever regard processed foods as inherently unhealthy. They are not ingredient obsessed: “Better for you” packaged foods enjoy little quality halo. In relation to food, Millennials have a different take on health and wellness than their parents: Gone are the days of denial or ingredient avoidance. All food is okay, even “bad food” — in fact, if your parents considered it bad for you then you’re especially likely to make sure you’ve incorporated it into your diet — or at least a little bit of it. Much as in the case for travel, Millennials are ready to experience a global world — and this finds expression in food choices and interests. Ethnic, especially the less common, is in. Millennials are much more likely to experiment with food, be they ethnic or not.

The Hartman Group is the predominant consumer culture consultancy in America today, serving consumer packaged goods companies, retailers and organizations in foods and beverages, foodservice, personal care, shopper marketing and other businesses that comprise the consumer marketplace. Since 1989, The Hartman Group has blended primary qualitative, quantitative, trends research and consulting to understand the subtle complexities of consumer and shopper behavior. It specializes in understanding how consumer attitudes, lifestyle and behaviors lead to purchase. Visit the Hartman Group’s website,