A nationwide survey of more than 1,800 shoppers by the Private Label Manufacturers Association reveals that millennials love food but want food done their way. Fresh and healthy foods are at the top of their shopping lists, while prepared and portable foods are also very popular.

These food choices reflect a distinctive way of eating. For millennials, eating is largely unscheduled. They incorporate food consumption — whether meals, snacks or bites — into a range of everyday activities, ranging from work and play to exercise and commuting, according to the research in PLMA’s report “How America’s Eating Habits Are Changing.” (See page 82 for additional insights.)

PLMA commissioned Surveylab to conduct a nationwide online survey of 1,839 women and men between the ages of 20 and 29, primarily the core group of the Millennial generation. This demographic group represents more than 50 million Americans, or about 15% of the total population.

Millennials purchase from many different sources but they frequently shop at supermarkets. The study found that 77.4% of shoppers buy dairy items in the supermarket where they do their regular grocery shopping and that 30.8% buy dairy items at a different supermarket where they also shop. About 26% buy dairy at a different type of store (such as a discount or club store) and 9.6% buy online. Only 6.8% said they do not buy dairy products.

The survey also questioned millennials about their attitudes towards food. Forty-two percent said they are “very interested” in the topic of health and 36.9% said they are “somewhat interested.” A majority say it is very important or somewhat important to avoid highly processed foods (64.2%) and genetically modified foods (53%) as well as those with hormones (56.2%) and antibiotics (55.4%).

The PLMA said its study indicates there is likely to be “a big payoff” for supermarkets that adapt to the eating habits of the millennials. Contrary to expectations, these shoppers are more loyal to their favorite stores than their parents. Nine of 10 do their regular grocery shopping in only one or two stores. This represents a dramatic departure from recent PLMA studies that saw consumers spreading their shopping among a multiplicity of stores.

This loyalty has important implications for store brands and proprietary brands. Millennials are well informed about brands and where foods come from. Nine of 10 say they are aware of the ingredients in the food products they eat and three of four read the nutritional labels on products. Their awareness of store brands and national brands is virtually the same at 84% vs. 86%.

“Store brands remain the retailer’s most potent weapon in developing strategies for this age group,” said Brian Sharoff, president of PLMA. “It offers flexibility and opportunities to be creative with product assortment and concept without waiting for national brands. But it requires an understanding of what this age group likes and will buy.”

The Private Label Manufacturers Association is the industry trade association devoted exclusively to store brands. Many dairy processors will show their co-packing expertise at PLMA’s Private Label Show in Rosemont, Ill., which runs from Nov. 13 to 15. 

To reach millennials, dairies need digital marketing

Millennials like to cook from scratch. 23.9% say they always or almost always prepare food from scratch and 35.7% say they frequently cook this way. Just about half (49.2%) consider themselves skilled cooks.

Millennials consider eating as a social activity to be enjoyed with friends. They like to cook and like to learn about cooking.

So what steps can dairies take to get their products in front of these young shoppers? Consider these tactics:

  • Include recipes on your website. 83.7% look up recipes online.
  • Post videos on YouTube. 62.2% always, frequently or sometimes watch a cooking video on YouTube.
  • Participate in retailer coupon programs. 64.3% of millennials search for coupons online and 64.6% use a coupon app.