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Hearth & Home January 2015

Meet the Millennials — Part II

By Lisa Readie Mayer

Millennials are interested in experimenting with global cuisines, ethnic flavors, and authentic cooking methods such as traditional low-and-slow barbecue.

Great news for the barbecue industry: Millennials are food-obsessed. Food is entertainment, self-expression, and a way of life for this generation. As you’ve probably noticed if you’ve dined with a 20-something lately, they often document their meals – particularly the ones they’ve cooked themselves – with photos shared online. In fact, 44 percent of Millennials say they’ve posted food shots, also known as “food porn,” on social media, according to Whereas Baby Boomers may have flaunted their designer clothes, watches, shoes and other luxury items, Millennials use food as a way to show off.

Both men and women in this age group cook for pleasure, watch food and cooking shows, and read food publications. Fifty-two percent of 21- to 32-year-olds say they would rather go to a food festival than a music festival, and 61 percent would rather have dinner at a new restaurant than buy a new pair of shoes, says a report from Mediapost Online.

Recognizing their passion, Food & Wine magazine has launched a new online publication for Millennials. Designed to be read on a smartphone, “FWx” is targeted to 25- to 35-year-olds who are “obsessed with eating and drinking and going out,” says editor Alex Vallis.

Not content with just eating good food, Millennials want to know how food is grown and made. They splurge on premium ingredients, and prefer small-batch, handcrafted and artisanal products over big brands. Millennials enjoy growing their own fruit, vegetables and herbs – and even raising chickens. Although money may be tight, 31 percent buy organic foods, compared with 21 percent of Gen Xers and 15 percent of Baby Boomers, according to the trends blog,

Because they are more culturally diverse, Millennials are interested in experimenting with global cuisines, ethnic flavors, and authentic cooking methods such as traditional low-and-slow barbecue. They know they need the right cookware and tools to make these authentic dishes at home and are willing to spring for them. This fact makes a compelling argument for barbecue retailers to carry a full line of accessory products to make everything from pizza to paella to pulled pork on the grill.

Interestingly, while high-brow, artisanal foods are hip with Millennials, so too are hot dogs, according to barbecue blogger Derrick Riches. He says hot dogs are popular with this group because they are cheap, easy to make, can be customized with toppings in unlimited ways, and are a perfect accompaniment to the cheap, retro beers like Pabst Blue Ribbon that are back in vogue.

Millennials love to entertain. Riches says they frequently host “kick backs,” low-key, low-stress, casual get-togethers. Often these events develop quickly and spontaneously, with invitations going out over social media. Riches says grilling is often at the center of a “kick-back” event.

Personalization is extremely important to Millennials. Traditional fast-food restaurants are losing ground with this group to have-it-your-way chains such as Chipotle and Subway. To try to win them back, McDonald’s is test-marketing customizable gourmet burgers with a choice of artisan or brioche buns and toppings such as spicy mayo, gourmet cheeses, guacamole and jalapenos.

Convenience chains court health-conscious Millennials with fresh products. Fresh food sales are up 30 percent over last year at 7-Eleven stores, where they sell seven times more bananas than Snickers bars, its number-one selling candy, according to USA Today. The chain is also targeting Millennials with its introduction of healthy, fresh, gourmet options such as a Grilled Chicken Sandwich with blueberry mustard on a whole-grain roll, and Spicy Quinoa Salad with Chimichurri dressing.

Faced with busy lifestyles, Millennials buy more prepared foods and meals at the supermarket than any other demographic group, according to trends analyst Phil Lempert, author of the Lempert Report. According to Riches, prepared-for-grilling foods such as pre-marinated meats or prepared kabobs are increasingly popular with Millennials, and they help generate sales of barbecue accessories, charcoal and other related products.

While Millennials often try to make a restaurant meal, specialty cocktail, or dish they’ve see on a cooking show, they don’t always feel confident that they can recreate it perfectly, according to Riches. Retailers might want to offer barbecuing, grilling and smoking classes, and manufacturers should consider adding step-by-step instructional videos on their websites, to help Millennials master the skills they desire. Classes should tap into Millennials’ interest in global flavors and authentic cooking techniques.

How Millennials Shop

According to The New York Times, Millennials represent $1.3 trillion in consumer spending. Because individually they don’t have a lot of money, they buy less, but make it count. Millennials are looking for quality and good design and make “considered purchases,” according to Susan Yashinsky, vice president at Sphere Trending. They consider themselves savvy shoppers and are more savings-conscious than Baby Boomers.

The Lempert Report indicates that Millennials are more “price-conscious” than consumers overall, and 84 percent (versus 75 percent of other groups) say price is the most influential factor in brand decisions. The report also indicates that this frugal group uses loyalty discount programs and coupons, compares prices, chooses a store based on prices, and comparison-shops.

Though directing money toward savings is another drain on Millennials’ already tight discretionary income, they save because they want to avoid the overbuying and living-beyond-their-means that tripped up many Boomers when the economic bubble burst. Although average household spending is down across all age groups since it peaked in 2006, the biggest declines were in the 25- to 34-year-old bracket, down 12.5 percent, according to the Consumer Expenditure Survey.

In fact, Millennials don’t feel as if they have to purchase everything new, nor even own every item they need and use. They are comfortable buying used items on Ebay, bartering for free stuff on Craig’s List, sharing cars through Zipcar, renting their textbooks, and even renting their wedding dresses.

Yashinsky predicts that neighborhoods of the future will have a communal shed with lawn mowers, chain saws and other occasionally used products available for borrowing or renting. “Millenials figure, ‘Why do I need to spend the money to own it and have it take up limited storage space, if I only need to use it once a week or less?’ They have to be smart with limited resources,” she explains. “They will save in some areas so they can afford to splurge in others.”

Might they feel similarly about renting specialty outdoor cookers such as smokers, pizza ovens or Brazillian rotisserie grills that they would enjoy trying, but probably wouldn’t use on a daily basis? Dealers may want to consider putting together weekend rental programs to satisfy Millennials who wish to experiment with cooking, but are short on cash and patio space.

With the exception of Apple products, this generation is not loyal to brands or stores. They are 24/7, omni-channel shoppers and will choose whichever channel meets their needs at any given time. Research for major purchases almost always starts on the Internet, where Millennials not only seek out product information, but also reviews and feedback from other consumers. They are comfortable shopping online and expect that they can find anything they want or need, or get answers to product questions any time of the day or night on the Web.

On the flip side, they love shopping at local, independent, brick-and-mortar retailers when it’s meaningful to them. Millennials are interested in developing relationships with independent retailers, respect their expertise, and perceive them as knowledgeable experts from whom they can learn. Millennials crave an “experience,” and that’s the main thing that compels them into a store to shop.

“If the retail store is not an exciting destination or an enriching, social, emotional, sensory or educational experience, they will simply buy what they need online,” says Yashinsky. She points to the retail chain Anthropologie, a popular destination for Millennials, as an example of a retailer that creates a unique shopping experience and engages customers through frequently changing displays, interesting merchandise, delightful aromas and more.

“It’s all about the experience for this generation,” she says. “People spend an average of an hour to an hour and a half shopping in an Anthropologie store. Other retailers use food sampling, in-store cafes and appetizing aromas to create an enjoyable shopping experience and extend browsing time. The longer people stay in a store, the more they will buy.”

Natural Foods Merchandiser reports that, more than any other generation, Millennials would be more likely to shop in a store where they can earn a free educational session, cooking class or nutritionist consultation. A similar technique would likely be effective in hearth, barbecue and patio retail stores.

Unlike brand-loyal Baby Boomers, Millennials “trade up and trade down,” according to The New York Times. Case in point: When young women aged 13 to 29 were asked about the fashion brands they desired, they listed both Target and Louis Vuitton among the top 20. Likewise, although they scour the grocery aisles for sales, Millennials will simultaneously splurge on artisanal foods, believing “you only live once.”

This generation values authenticity and is more likely to support businesses that demonstrate social responsibility. According to Barton, Koslow and Beauchamp, “Because Millennials identify more personally and emotionally with brands, companies must strive to maintain genuine reputations and reinforce the traits, personalities, values and causes that Millennials (believe in).”

According to the Lempert Report, by 2020 Millennials will outspend Baby Boomers. That leaves a short time before they hit their highest-spending years to adapt product offerings and marketing strategies to best reach the group “for whom technology is innate, brand loyalty is elusive and personal choice is a mantra,” says Lempert.

Marketing to Millennials

The Internet is the most important and influential marketing tool available for connecting with Millennials. In fact, virtually all Millennials’ major purchase decisions begin with research on the Internet and, increasingly, that research happens right in the store at point of purchase. According to the Boston Consulting Groups’ Global Consumer Sentiment Survey, 46 percent of Millennials (versus 29 percent of Baby Boomers) now use their mobile devices while shopping, to compare prices, learn about products or check for coupons.

Millennials have a general distrust of traditional advertising, according to Yashinsky. While 61 percent of Baby Boomers say they are influenced by advertising, especially when it features “testimonials” from doctors, financial advisors or other experts, less than half of Millennials say they are swayed by it.

“This generation is conditioned to see through the hard sell and the crap,” Yashinsky says. Instead, Millennials are more influenced by opinions, experiences and advice shared by independent sources, such as friends, family and even strangers.

According to the eMarketer online newsletter, nearly 70 percent of Millennial social media users make purchases based on their friends’ posts. Studies show this generation collects advice from five people when making purchase decisions, compared with Baby Boomers who seek the advice of three people.

The only people not consulted, it seems, are husbands. According to a survey by Ameriprise Financial, married Millennial women were less likely (53 percent) to coordinate closely with spouses on purchase decisions than Gen X (62 percent) or Baby Boomer women (72 percent).

Millennials desire an interactive relationship with companies and brands. They appreciate when manufacturers and retailers share relevant information, recipes, tips and other valuable content with them via social media. And they are increasingly communicating back to companies.

When Millennials have a favorable experience, they proactively share the good news online and positively advocate for the company or product. But if Millennials have a bad or disappointing experience, they are just as likely to “turn into vocal critics who will spread the negative word through social media, reviews and blogs, and that criticism can go viral,” according to a report on Millennial marketing by Christine Barton, Lara Koslow and Christine Beauchamp of the Boston Consulting Group. “The Internet, social media and mobile devices greatly amplify Millennials’ opinions and accelerate their impact.”

Indeed, more than 50 percent of Millennials (of them, more women than men) say they are willing to share brand preferences on social media (versus 31 percent of Baby Boomers). Nearly 40 percent say they post product reviews, and 26 percent answer online satisfaction surveys. Twenty-eight percent of younger Millennials and 23 percent of older Millennials (compared with 12 percent of Baby Boomers) say they are likely not to buy or use products their friends disapprove of or negatively review. Interestingly, males are twice as concerned as females about this type of peer approval.  

A University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research study shows Millennials turn to specific social networks depending on the type of product they want to buy. For example, they would likely post on Twitter or Instagram about food- and beverage-related products, but search Pinterest or Houzz for home design, DIY projects and products such as fireplaces and outdoor kitchens.

When Mark Zuckerberg posted on his Facebook page a couple years ago about the iGrill, an app-enabled, wireless meat thermometer that lets users remotely monitor their food and see what other iGrill users are grilling, the site received so many visitors it crashed. While not every post will command the same attention as one by Mark Zuckerberg, it’s undeniable that social media is a powerful tool for reaching Millennials.

HBO CEO Richard Plepler says the company created its HBO Go app to target 20-somethings, who use it to watch the network’s hits such as “Girls” and “Game of Thrones” online using their parents’ HBO subscriptions. He said in an interview on CBS This Morning, “It’s a way to hook them to HBO programming so when they have their own first apartment, they will likely subscribe to HBO. It’s a terrific marketing vehicle to grow our business.”

Of course, the Internet is just one tool for reaching Millennials, and experts recommend a cross-media approach. Home design and clothing retailers such as Restoration Hardware, Pottery Barn, Ballard Designs and Land’s End, still find direct-mail catalogs effective because they drive consumers to websites for further exploration. Running commercials on HGTV and other DIY home-design TV shows might make sense knowing Millennials are avid viewers of these influential programs. Public relations and cause marketing are also effective ways to reach this socially conscious group.

Experts say, when planning marketing campaigns, it’s important to keep in mind Millennials’ racial and ethnic diversity; the people portrayed in advertising and other communications should reflect that diversity. Likewise, as a result of having grown up with stay-at-home dads, same-sex parents, and multi-generational households, Millennials have broader definitions of a family unit than previous generations. Any depictions of a family must resonate with this group.

With its love of food and cooking, and its affinity for outdoor living, Millennials hold a lot of potential for the hearth, patio and barbecue industry.

“This is a challenging but very exciting group,” says Yashinsky. “Millennials are demanding consumers who have a lot of options. Manufacturers and retailers must understand this generation to succeed.”


Read Meet the Millennials — Part I

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