Millennials’ Food Habits Are as Distinctive as Their Social Media Habits

We recently had the great pleasure of dining with some Millennials as part of our research on the generation’s eating habits that are transforming the food industry. Innovaro, a market research company that provides insights about new market opportunities to its subscribers, has been gracious enough to incorporate our findings in a report it  published on the topic. Without violating any of Innovaro’s copyrights or our guests’ privacy, we want to share a couple of brief vignettes on what transpired that night at a great Middle Eastern restaurant in Washington, D.C.

Forty percent of Millennials are non-white and 20% have an immigrant parent. Their eclectic tastes in food reflect these demographic characteristics. Growing up they shared food with peers who came from vastly different backgrounds with a wide variety of cuisines and spices. Far more than the members of older generations when they were young, Millennials are adventurous eaters, willing to try something new at least once and more comfortable with a wider variety of taste temptations. At our dinner, an African-American female Millennial was eating a plate of steak tartare and recommending it to her peers as something she had recently tried and really liked.  A white German-Catholic male eagerly downed hummus, babbaganouch and tabouli and remarked how marvelous it was to be able to eat foods no one in his neighborhood in Cincinnati had even heard of when he was growing up, let alone ate. A white male with a Finnish last name, remembered how he used to eat out in different neighborhoods in his home town of Ishpeming, Michigan in order to experiment with different ethnic cuisines. He heartily recommended Cornish pasties to his peers should they ever find themselves in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Millennials bring this same taste for adventure into their cooking habits, albeit with a strong dash of social media. The Millennials we dined with had all used YouTube videos to figure out how to prepare something at home. The process began with an Internet search for recipes, then a quick trip to the store to buy the ingredients, and finally cooking it with their iPad next to the stove for easy reference.  Preparing a “nice” meal was not a frequent occurrence, but reserved for special events or celebrations that warranted the investment of time. Only a few had learned to cook from their parents, whose food preferences tended to be much narrower than their own.

The Millennials we dined with loved to watch the Food Network and its clones. The show, “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” represented the perfect blend for them of cheap food, unique to its locale (Millennials are very into “locality”), that could be eaten as part of a fun experience. Almost every one of them could remember watching cooking shows growing up and many had taken cooking courses to learn how to do what they had seen on TV.

Having been raised by fathers who were as much involved with parenting as their mothers, Millennials are much less likely to believe that gender should play a role in other activities in life. So perhaps the biggest difference from older generations when it came to food and cooking that we observed with our friendly focus group was that there was no distinction between the males and females on this topic. Welcome to the Millennial food era.