Young consumers want background on products they buy

NEW ORLEANS, La. — Food company executives say millennials are driving food trends, which has implications for farmers.

“They want a higher level of food safety, they want more transparency, ethical sourcing and lower environmental impacts from their food,” said Kelly Shea, vice-president of government and industry relations with the WhiteWave Foods Co.

WhiteWave is the fastest growing food company in the United States, with sales expanding at a compound annual growth rate of 19 percent a year.

Three-quarters of its portfolio is organic and non-genetically modified food. It owns popular brands such as Horizon Organic, Earthbound Farm, Silk and International Delight.

Shea told delegates attending Bayer’s AgVocacy Forum that the company is focused on millennials, who were born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s.

“They will have the most spending power of all of the charted demographics by 2017,” said Shea.

Millennials are expected to ac-count for 75 percent of food industry growth over the next 10 years.

“More than ever, they are looking for products with clean and really simple ingredients,” she said.

As well, they are willing to pay handsomely for those products. The average shopping basket for a WhiteWave shopper in a retail store is worth 82 percent more than those of non-WhiteWave customers.

Modern consumers want to be guilt-free when they buy their food, said Christine Daugherty, vice-president of sustainable food production with Tyson Foods.

“They want to know, how was the animal treated? How was the supply chain managed? How were the crops produced?” she said.

Daugherty said agriculture has to become more trustworthy and transparent.

“You gain (trust) by opening up the barn door, opening up the curtain,” she said.

Consumers have lost their connection to farming.

Only two percent of the population grows food, and most people are three generations removed from the farm.

It’s why consumers are easily duped into believing myths. She said 80 percent of consumers believe chickens are raised on hormones and steroids. They don’t realize that is against the law.

“Federal regulations prohibit adding hormones and steroids in chickens,” said Daugherty.

Dan Dye, chief executive officer of Ardent Mills, which operates more than 40 community flour mills and bakery mix facilities in North America, believes the spotlight on agriculture is going to bring out the best in the industry.

His company pays close attention to what customers want and tries to create those products, such as a whole wheat flour made out of a special variety of white wheat.

“It has the texture, the feel, look and actually some of the taste characteristics of a more traditional white flour,” said Dye.

He believes millennials are going to create significant opportunities for new products as they push for changes, such as a reduction in food waste.

“It shapes how we bring products to market,” said Dye.

“It could be in packaging. It could be in portion size. It could be a lot of different things.”

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