Food Demographics: How Millennials Have Changed Food Preferences

age related differences in food choices

I recently did extensive research on millennial (people born since 1980) food preferences for a presentation at Western Michigan University’s Food Marketing conference..  The results were as interesting as they were contrarian.  Young consumers are headed in two directions:  Health nuts and Foodie adventurers or both at the same time!  As the country moves south and west as Census reports — age related differences in food choices will be more pronounced.  For both young and old, Mexican-derived food — without the lard — is a major trend.

As part of my research I reviewed recipes from the popular cookbooks beginning in 1950 through 2010.  The most obvious changes occur after Julia Child burst onto the scene.  If you have the lived-in look you may remember that in the 1950s and 1960s the Junior League organization was top of the heap socially in most cities with chapters.  Their cookbooks reflect what real people ate, if only occasionally.  After Julia Child, the Junior League cookbooks are noticeably more sophisticated. Dressings and sauces have changed most dramatically.  How many salad dressings were served before the 1990s..

Age-related food preferences are very different from 20 years ago.  Fewer than ten percent of Boomers have false teeth.  They do not want, nor will they buy, food products targeted to seniors — a word they heartily loathe.  They eat now, and will continue to eat, visibly young.  They take food cues from millennials and buy products Boomers would not consider without Twentysomething examples.  These include ten kinds of hot sauce, alcoholic drinks made with unusual ingredients, plantains, and avocados not in guacamole.

What drives these trends?  Artisanal farming and heirloom vegetables — especially tomatoes –is the most important food trend among people under 40.  It also accounts for part of the movement south and west because land is cheaper and so many can telecommute.

Not a single Food Network recipe uses canned soup as an ingredient (based on my sample). Six out of ten popular entrée recipes from the 1950s through the 1970s did.  The most popular canned food is a tomato product.

Foodie adventurers get more information from food blogs and chat rooms than  from conventional media.  Health nuts ditto.  Both groups use peer opinion and are looking for the next big cuisine.  However, millennials are more likely to sample new foods in a restaurant, not cook at home.  They will spend a larger proportion of income on food than any previous generation.

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Filed under Boomers, Demographics, Millennials and GenX