Millennials' strongly-held views about food may have its roots in the 2004 documentary “Super-Size Me,” in which independent filmmaker Morgan Spurlock ate nothing but McDonald's food for 30 days, gaining 24 pounds and damaging his health.
Despite the fact that no one in their right mind would recommend such a diet, suddenly young people, who as children loved to eat at fast food restaurants, wouldn't set foot in one.
The trend has continued, with nutritionist David Despain writing in Food Technology Magazine that the effects have shaken up the food industry. He writes that entrepreneurial companies are disrupting the food chain through product innovation, storytelling, and home delivery services.
These small companies cater to consumers who embrace the “small is beautiful” mantra, and if it's small and local, so much the better.
Despain cites a 2015 study by Mintel that found 43% of Millennials do not trust large food manufacturers, compared to only 18% of non-Millennials who have that prejudice.
Because of this distrust, Despain believes Millennials want brands to form a “genuine, authentic connection” with them. They have also mixed their taste in food with morality, seeking out products with local or novel ingredients and brands that are “attached to a greater ethical mission.”
As a result, small food brands are successfully connecting with consumers by offering natural and transparent products and aligning ingredients and marketing with a social cause.
Big companies get the message
But guess what? So are large food companies -- or at least they're trying. Gordon Food Service, a major corporation selling food to restaurants and institutions, has explored Millennial tastes in-depth, noting this generation is seeking “authenticity” in its food choice.
“It’s about authenticity of experience—food with integrity that’s handcrafted in the back of the house,” the company writes on its website.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association, one of the food industry's largest trade groups, recently collaborated with Deloitte to study food trends influenced by Millennials. It not only found that values continue to play an oversized role in food decisions, but the trend is no longer confined to one generation.
Everyone's doing it
“Contrary to conventional wisdom, it’s not just the Millennials or most affluent putting these evolving drivers in the mix,” Jack Ringquist, principal, Deloitte Consulting, said in a release. “Our research reveals that the preference for these attributes does not differ by generation, income level or region, but is pervasive across these groups.”
The bottom line, the food industry trade group concluded, is that the U.S. consumer has changed in a fundamental way and large food companies need to adapt to remain competitive.
Many already are. Despain says major retailers are catering to new consumer needs by changing the assortment on their shelves to include more products from smaller brands. Investors, too, see tremendous potential in smaller food companies and have been eager to finance new food ventures.
Meanwhile, as large food companies struggle to stay relevant, small food businesses are quickly becoming competitive and disrupting the traditional food chain, Despain writes.