Trending Now: Reaching Millennials in Foodservice

It’s no secret that foodservice operators are counting on the millennial generation, or Generation Y, to help the industry recover from the recession. As the largest demographic wave since the baby boomers, millennials also are a group that tends to rely on foodservice more often than previous generations.

The challenge for foodservice operators is that this group doesn’t act cohesively. When asked what kind of cuisine they would like to see more of at restaurants next year, the youngest Millennials (18-24s) rated highest among other age groups in their desire to see more Italian, Asian, Mexican, Greek, Indian, and Central American cuisine. The older Millennials (25-34s) also rated high in most of these, and rated highest among age groups in their desire to see more French and Middle Eastern cuisines.[1] Younger Millennials also demonstrate significantly higher frequency of use for restaurant snacking, visiting restaurants for snacks 12.6 times in the last month compared to the nearly nine visits among all restaurant snackers.[2]

There could be many reasons for the adventurous eating that has transformed into a genuine desire for more ethnic cuisine at restaurants—travel, the Food Network, multicultural friends—but college dining may have as much to do with it as anything. Campus dining chefs have done an amazing job over the past decade developing and delivering genuine meals from various cultures. Additionally, colleges have come to recognize the revenue potential behind having students eat on campus, versus spending their food dollars elsewhere.

So how can operators attract and retain more millennial diners? A couple of key trends may help point the way:

Authentic Ethnic: To meet the flavor interests of food-experienced Millennials, it won’t be enough to take a few ingredients from another culture and combine them with stale American choices. Members of this group understand what is authentic and what is ethnic and they can spot those who chose the easy way out to meeting their demands and those that fully addressed their needs.

Organic and local: Millennials appear to have embraced the organic movement. Respondents aged 15-32 are more likely to consume organic food and beverages (29% vs. 22% overall). Separate studies conducted by research firm Y-Pulse found that fresh, local foods were of high interest, and that “nutrition conscious” students placed an even higher value on organic and local foods.[3]

Barilla insight: Despite having been the number one ethnic cuisine in America for many years, it may be surprising that Italian is cited as the cuisine millennials want to see more of. The fact is that there are still plenty of regional and authentic Italian dishes that haven’t yet become mainstream, and many Italian-American classics that are ripe for rediscovery and a return to their traditional roots. Better still, an affordable center-of-the-plate item like pasta can help make it easier for operators to incorporate local and sustainable meats and fresh produce onto the menu.

[1] A Millennial View of Cultural Cuisines, Mintel, February 2011Mintel
[2] Trends in Snacking and Value Meals in Foodservice; Mintel, July 2011
[3] College Students Eating Habits, Y-Pulse, 2005