Millennial Americans, those born between 1981 and 1996, are now the consumer demographic with the greatest spending power. They are a generation that grew up surrounded by rapid technological advancement and came of age at the start of the social media era. They are more likely than previous generations to be multicultural, tech-savvy, and socially engaged. Now, their preferences are shaping how brands market to and communicate with their target audiences.
Perhaps this shift is most obvious when it comes to food. Most millennials grew up eating processed foods and were children at the height of fast food’s prominence, gleefully collecting Happy Meal toys and making friends at the adjacent indoor PlayPlace. However, as young adults, they were the recipients (and sometimes engineers) of the changing trends toward organic, local, unprocessed food. Today, the primary value that millennials prize when eating is transparency.
Transparency Builds Brand Loyalty
Millennial consumers’ desire for transparency, whether in politics, consumer goods, or nutrition, has permeated other demographics. In a recent article published by the Hunter College Food Policy Center, the authors reference several food-industry studies which have found that “99 percent of people want transparency in their fresh food products, 98 percent want transparency in packaged foods, and 70 percent stated that what they buy is always or often influenced by transparency.” What does this mean when it comes to how we eat? “For the consumer, transparency simply means knowing how a product was made… information on the product’s ingredients, sourcing, production process, sustainability, and so on.”
Where should this information come from? Studies have revealed that consumers, including millennials, want brands to provide relevant information, but trust brands less than federal agencies like the FDA to do so accurately. Instead, they want brands to go above and beyond in making trusted and verified data available to them on product packaging, menus, and elsewhere. In fact, over one-third of consumers indicated they would switch brands for transparency reasons, and over half “would be loyal to a brand for life if it provided complete transparency.”
For millennials, a traditionally brand-loyal demographic, transparency builds trust and is the foundation of ongoing brand loyalty. But transparency is about more than simply knowing where their food comes from.
Transparency Reinforces Values
Kira Karapetian, Label Insight’s VP of Marketing, writes in Forbes that “When millennials make purchasing decisions, they’re considering more than the traditional drivers of taste, price and convenience… (they) make purchasing decisions based on the tenets of self, society and planet.” What does this mean?
“Self” indicates consumers’ desire for healthy, unprocessed foods that will contribute to their individual well-being and enhance their quality of life. “Society” expands this lense to ask “What good is the company contributing to the broader community it serves?”, including how a company treats its workers and whether its sourcing and manufacturing standards help or harm the wider community. “Planet” includes environmental standards, which are a major concern of younger demographics including millennials, including “eco-social issues like animal handling, land practices, and water, energy, and waste management.”
Millennials have been derided as narcissists who grew up in the era of “participation trophies” and buried their faces in cell phones, curating their social media profiles. What older generations may have seen as solipsism, however, has turned out to be something quite different – social media, for this demographic, has actually been a connector, a doorway to a broader perspective that may seem self-interested but is in fact expansive. This is reflected in what millennials require from the brands they support, which is transparency, environmental awareness, and social good.
Self, Society, and Planet
The food and beverage industry has taken notice of the millennial-driven desire for transparency, and other industries are following suit. Whether this means foods with organic, ethically-sourced ingredients or products that enhance connection, awareness, and quality of life, brand-builders and marketers should take note. Millennials’ buying power is here to stay, and brands that aspire to longevity must begin to consider how they craft and communicate their impact on “self, society, and planet.”