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Good Eats: Millennials Like Fast, Fresh and Fun

Food and beverage habits differ from those of boomer parents

Toasting with glasses of red wine

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Millennials share their wine tastings and reviews on social media.

The kids are coming home for a few days for the spring holidays. Beyond the traditional meals, you've stocked up on kale, avocado, healthy breakfast cereal and hip craft beer.

But you might find the cereal and beer untouched at the end of the visit. That's because millennials have developed some decidedly different eating and drinking habits from those of their parents.

Grab-and-go foods such as yogurt or fast-food breakfast sandwiches are more their style. Cereal can be a hassle — 40 percent of millennials say it's because you have to wash out a bowl, according to marketing researchers at Mintel. And while beer was the popular drink in college, many millennials have traded keg cups for wine glasses, consuming half the wine in the United States. That's more than any generation.

The evolving millennial eating and drinking preferences have grabbed the attention of a food industry trying to appeal to these 80 million Americans with $200 billion to spend. "Compared to older generations, millennials exhibit a unique set of behaviors regarding their eating and food shopping habits," wrote Mintel food analyst Amanda Topper. "They prioritize health and freshness, have a foodie mentality at home and away, and shop for food across a variety of retail channels."

Their lifestyles affect those choices. They take snacking to a new level, noshing at least three times a day, with more than half choosing snacking over a regular meal. Employers sometimes offer free snack food as a perk to lure them.

Because millennials prefer to spend money on experiences, eating out — even on a limited budget — is an affordable luxury. Almost 60 percent dine out at least once a week, which is twice the percentage of boomers, and one-third eat out three or more times a week.

Perhaps not surprising for a generation raised on drive-through and takeout meals, more than half prefer quick-service, casual restaurants. A Morgan Stanley survey found that, unlike their parents, millennials define "healthy" as "fresh, less processed and with fewer artificial ingredients." Fast-casual spots such as Shake Shack or Panera are popular choices.

While eating on the run, our adult kids slow down to enjoy a glass of wine or two, averaging two cases per person in 2015, according to a Wine Market Council study. While boomers prefer California wines, millennials have increased wine sales in other regions, from New York to New Zealand. They also enjoy "fun" wines, driving up sales of rosé and affordable bubbly such as Prosecco. The survey also found that 17 percent of all millennial wine drinkers purchased a bottle costing $20 or more in the past month, compared with 5 percent of boomers. Of course, they share their tastings and reviews on social media, just as they do with food.

The food and beverage industry is adapting to this new generation of foodies. Starbucks, for example, launched an "Evenings" menu that offers wine and small plates in select locations. And Chuck E. Cheese has expanded its wine list and introduced thin-crust pizzas to appeal to the growing number of millennial moms.

Still, some things remain unchanged. Nostalgic millennials will actually eat an occasional bowl of their favorite childhood cereals, such as Lucky Charms and Frosted Flakes. But they'll probably leave the bowl in the sink.

Mary W. Quigley, a journalist and author, has written two books about motherhood and work. An NYU journalism professor, she is the mother of three adult children and blogs at Mothering21.

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