There’s a big secret about millennials. A lot of them are thinking about food all the time. They’re entertaining questions like, “What shall I eat tonight?” “Where can I dine out next?” and “What’s in my fridge that I can throw together into a meal?”
But they’re also expressing this food preoccupation on social media. Just take a look at any of the statistics for Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter or Facebook. On Pinterest, for example, the food boards are easily the most popular.
Putting it bluntly, food is a BIG issue for millennials. Univision Communications, for instance, estimates that 44 per cent of millennials aged between 21 and 24 have posted images of food or drinks they’ve prepared (or are about to polish off in a restaurant) on social media.
It’s likely that technology has inadvertently fuelled this generation’s near-obsession with food. They’ve grown up perched in front of a screen and a keyboard for huge swathes of the day. And one consequence of living in the virtual world for so long is that other senses, like olfaction and taste, suffer a degree of deprivation. They hunger for the tangible, the tasteable, the smellable and deliciously edible.
Not only that, but technology is generating increased social deprivation. Social media, no matter how popular it’s become among this generation, isn’t the same as real social companionship. Sharing stories and laughter over a convivial meal brings people physically together to hear each other’s voices and gaze into each other’s eyes.
But technology undoubtedly has a very positive side for millennials, too. And especially when it comes to food. Today, you can access recipes from across the globe from your smartphone, pick up the ingredients on the way home and cook up a culinary storm once you enter your kitchen. And then, once you’ve presented it beautifully on a serving platter, you can take a snap and share it far and wide via social media.
For millennials, food image sharing is increasingly becoming a major way of promoting their own personal brand (millennials, as the author Eve Turow outs it, are “the kings of self-branding”).
Millennial marketer Jeff Fromm observes: “Unlike previous generations, Millennials now have the capability to use food as a method of personal storytelling and self-expression.”
And it’s not going away. Big food companies are beginning to take notice (each image, after all, can be shared with hundreds of online friends). Kraft, for example, seeing that millennials are refusing to spend their money on processed foods, quickly announced that it would be removing the yellow dye from its pre-packed macaroni cheese offerings in the hope of luring them back.
Fromm’s research indicates that young diners are opting for locally-sourced, free-range and organic foods. They’re health conscious as well as food obsessed. And they want to keep the environmental impact of food production and distribution as small as possible. Not only that, but they’re excited by ethnic diversity and authenticity in the foods they prepare and eat, as well as what food journalist Tim Carman calls “ethnic mash-ups.”
They enjoy promoting their cultural fluidity through food, and conveying the impression that they’re well-travelled, to their followers on Twitter.
And when they dine out, their preferences come with them. They prefer eating in restaurants in globally-inspired, eco-friendly restaurants with communal seating, open kitchens and menus designed for sharing.
At PSL, we believe this generation is of immense value to food producers, restaurateurs and vendors. It’s time to pay attention to their likes and dislikes.