Shoppers armed with wants

Food makers and marketers urged to understand concerns of millennials and cater to their busy lifestyles

Karen Morrison  attended the SIAL international food and trade show in Toronto and filed these reports

TORONTO — Millennials are well travelled, have adventurous palates and are digitally connected, but they are also a generation with a social conscience.

Delegates at the SIAL show were told it’s important to understand how these characteristics affect what they eat.

Dana McCauley, executive director of Food Starter, said millennials, who are generally defined as those born between 1980 and 1995, have young families and careers and currently represent one-quarter of the Canadian population.

“They are one of our most important shoppers,” she said.

“This is a generation where social purpose is important to them,” said Cheryl Grishkewich, vice-president of control brand marketing with Loblaw.

Citing the failure of Pepsi’s latest advertising campaign mirroring the Black Lives Matter movement, she said the backlash was negative and immediate because of the social media networks this generation inhabits.

Catering to a group commonly found posting their selfies and food shots, Grishkewich cited her company’s push for new packaging that will have greater food appeal and the information they are seeking.

“Call out what is gluten free … call out all ingredients of concern,” she said.

Jo-Ann McArthur, president of Nourish Food Marketing, said millennials are more conscious consumers, questioning how products are made and with what and how the food animals and workers were treated while making them.

“This group knows how to use social media. They’re the most digital generation. It’s where they do all their learning,” said McArthur.

“If you have a story to tell, make sure you tell it.”

Linda Fox, director of marketing with Sofina, called the millennials a collaborative generation.

“They’re out there asking questions, testing things out. If they don’t know, they reach out online to figure it out,” she said.

McArthur called diapers “a gateway drug” to this generation of young parents, citing Amazon’s success in giving them access to online purchasing and creating demand for other products.

Health and nutrition are also important along with convenience and portability.

McArthur cited cereal nuggets as an example of the eat-in-the-car lifestyle of young parents pushed for time and making the commute every day.

Snacking is the new normal with consumers reaching for prepared convenience products throughout the day.

Fox said lunch fixings are often a “flurry of snacks.”

“Meals are snacks and snacks are meals,” she said.

They also reach for less traditional weekday supper choices such as cereal or eggs.

The current generation of children have been introduced to a wider variety of flavours from an early age so food offerings can reflect that.

Because new parents’ lifestyles can be isolating due to the constraints of work and parenting, Loblaw created a restaurant experience for families.

The Babylicious campaign provided baby food to participating white table restaurants where parents enjoyed a night out with friends.

Fox and Grishkewich said millennials like to dabble in exotic food choices, but most lacked home economics education so they are seeking information about food and how to use it.

“This generation is about the food experience as much as the food itself,” said Grishkewich.

“They may be experimental cooks on the weekend, but on weeknights, it’s just, ‘do it for me,’ ” she said, citing the need for purchases of freshly prepared family meals such as salads and lasagne.

Food suppliers were also told to consider the local marketplace.

Quebecers are more likely to have sit down family meals, halal purchasers have larger families to feed and young millennials live in smaller urban spaces with limited food storage.

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