Hard To Study A Moving Target

Jim Prevor - Comments and Analysis

Jim Prevor - Comments and AnalysisStudying the shopping and consumption habits of Millennials is quite obviously important. As the largest age cohort, their shopping and consumption patterns will determine which retailers will succeed, what the dietary health of Americans will be, and the group will be seen as models for future generations. But viewing age as an independent variable is just a first swipe at the data. The researchers acknowledge this by starting to look at income and also even within an age cohort how certain events, such as the “great recession,” might impact different parts of this group.

Certainly, knowing how Millennials differ in their purchasing behavior from senior citizens is useful if, for example, a retailer is located in an area rich with Millennials or senior citizens. It gives clues as to how to merchandise and market, what products might make sense to procure, etc.

But if we are looking to understand how the Millennials differ from their predecessors, we need to look at many more variables.
To start with, you really want to compare, as they say, apples to apples. So, the question is not how do Millennials differ from Baby Boomers; the question is how do Millennials differ from Baby Boomers when the Boomers were the same age as the Millennials are today.

Even this is only part of the story, because age is just one variable. There are changes in living patterns, such as when people get married, if they cohabitate, when they have children, etc. – all these things impact family size. In fact, it is a little unclear what a Millennial “household” actually is. If the last Millennials were born December 31, 2003, that would make them 14 years old today. Add in older ones who are still in college, or graduate school or the military or have moved back in with Mom and Dad, and it is not clear how you would get a truly representative sample of Millennial households, many of whom do not actually yet exist as separate procurement entities.

If we are looking to understand how the Millennials differ from their predecessors, we need to look at many more variables.

It is also important to distinguish differential consumer choice patterns from different product availability patterns. It is certainly true that today’s Millennials buy more convenience produce items than Baby Boomers did at the same age. They buy Bistro Bowls from Ready Pac and Nourish Bowls from Mann Packing; they buy Veggie Noodles from Cece’s Veggie Noodle Company; they buy marinated beets from Love Beets, etc.

Their grandparents didn’t buy these products. This may be due to changing eating habits, different percentages of women in the workforce, differing economic conditions, etc., but it is also true that none of these items existed back then. New technologies in processing and packaging, as well as new processing networks, have made many products possible that simply weren’t feasible in generations past.

It is important to look at the big picture. Millennials may indeed work less than other generations, and so it may seem in isolation to be quizzical that they also spend less time eating, shopping and preparing foods. In all probability, though, Millennials spend a lot more time in school than any other age cohort included in this study. Perhaps if we added school, studying and work hours together, we might find the Millennial desire for convenience more understandable.

It is also likely that this age cohort has more joint living arrangements than other age groups. Whether that is having a bunch of roommates, living with parents, living in dorms where they may have meal plans, etc., it is likely more common than other generations that Millennials have others doing meal preparation for them.

The data indicating Millennials spend a higher percentage on fruits and vegetables than older generations is interesting. The researchers theorize it might be due to greater health-consciousness. That is, of course, possible, but there may be other explanations. Do these numbers only cover Fresh produce? If so, this might imply an older generation comfortable with canned green beans and Mandarin orange sections is being supplanted by a new generation that might demand more Fresh.

It might also be a consequence of living situations. If young people, with less need to worry about school quality and a backyard for the kids, are willing to live in urban venues, they may also shop more frequently as they don’t have large storage areas in urban apartments. It is also likely the ethnic makeup of Millennials is different than the makeup of Baby Boomers. If you have a higher percentage of Latinos and Asians, they may be inclined to buy produce items in addition to the standard fare long consumed by Anglos.

Understanding not merely what is different but why makes a big difference. If Millennials buy more fresh produce because they live an urban lifestyle, shop every day and are not worried about fresh items going bad, that will probably dissipate as
they get married, have children and move to the suburbs. But if they buy more avocados and mangos because they are Mexican,
that probably will stay with them for a lifetime.

See: Millennials Paving The Way For Produce Consumption Uptick

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