Sean Pratt reports from the Oilseed & Grain Trade Summit in Minneapolis, Minn.
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Farmers and food companies are ignoring millennials at their peril, says the author of a book on the food habits of 15 to 35 year olds.
The generation makes up one-quarter of the world’s population and will surpass baby boomers as the largest spending group next year.
“Now is the time to wake up and realize you need to figure them out because you’re going to be serving them for a long time,” said Eve Turow Paul, author of A Taste of Generation Yum.
Half of millennials consider themselves to be foodies.
“Young people used to spend 17 cents on ramen. Today we’re spending $25 on ramen and waiting two hours in line to get it,” she told delegates attending the 2016 Oilseed & Grain Trade Summit.
Teenagers spend more on food than they do on clothing, and 87 percent of millennials say they will splurge on a meal even when money is tight.
Turow Paul studied millennials for more than five years in preparation for writing her book. She shadowed them, interviewed them and read textbooks about them.
In the end, she developed a theory on why food has become such a passion for this generation.
“Young people today are using food as a form of anti-technology,” she said.
They have become overwhelmed with texting, Snapchat and Facebook. Food is a way to reconnect with something that is tangible and real.
“People just wanted something that they could see and they could feel and they knew wasn’t going to go away if their computer crashed,” said Turow Paul.
“Everyone says we are the over-stimulated generation when in reality we are drastically under-stimulated.”
However, they don’t completely disengage from technology while enjoying their food. Millennials like to take pictures of what they are eating and share the photos with friends on Facebook or Snapchat.
It helps them identify who they are. Someone eating an organic, vegan, kale salad is telling her friends that she cares about the environment and herself.
“Stop thinking of food as nourishment. It is so far beyond that,” said Turow Paul.
Farmers and food companies need to know that millennials want natural, organic, locally sourced food.
The food industry has been slow to respond to their needs, but companies such as Unilever, Walmart, McDonalds and Coca-Cola are starting to change their product offerings because they recognize the purchasing clout of millennials.
Turow Paul said the key is to be open, honest and transparent because millennials don’t trust large corporations.