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What millennials want from food and drink

Young people sitting around a table and eating

When millennials spend money, they want more than a product for their hard-earned dollars. They want an experience, authenticity and quality. They also want social media-worthy content.

Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management professor Julie Kellershohn credits her students for inspiring her initial interest in how consumers are using technology to purchase food and beverages. Making meal decisions based on what a consumer can access through their mobile phone apps has grown from an occasional behaviour of an early technology adopter to a commonplace occurrence for the majority of urban millennial consumers.

Originally focused on millennial consumers and fast food mobile apps, her research now also includes the digital generation (Gen Z) and a variety of digital food ordering tools, as well as digital tools for beverage and alcohol marketing. She has published her findings at conferences, and in journals and book chapters.

“These consumers want an experience with their food and beverage,” said professor Kellershohn of marketing to millennial consumers. Part of the drive for an experience is so that they can create an image or story that they can share on social media. But this isn’t only about social media. For many urban millennials, home ownership is financially out of reach.

“They are living in smaller spaces than previous generations and they aren’t necessarily focused on acquiring physical items for their homes. Instead, they have a keen interest in food and beverage experiences as part of the lifestyle they are cultivating. Engaging and interesting experiences are something they value and are willing to spend money on,” she said.

Professor Kellershohn’s research shows that millennial consumers are looking for a balance of convenience, authenticity, experiential variety, brand engagement and personalization, but which element is the most important varies based on the food and beverage occasion.

Convenience is often the top priority, a key factor that has led to the rapid growth in the use of mobile apps to purchase food and beverages. A survey she worked on with fellow Ted Rogers School of Management professor Bettina West shows that while not all millennials use mobile apps for food and beverage purchases, millennials lead the category when compared to other generations. The majority of millennials surveyed had at least one food and beverage-related app on their phone, with the Starbucks app – the earliest North American retailer to launch its own mobile payment and loyalty program – being the food and beverage app of choice.

Other findings show that while having an app doesn’t increase food purchases compared to non-app users in a similar age group, it does increase beverage purchases as well as total dollars spent. “Consumers who use their phones to order beverages for themselves go more often and spend more money,” said professor Kellershohn.

Her research also found that technology can play a part in marketing alcohol to millennials, from offering brand loyalty programs to adding unique experiences with virtual or augmented reality segments. Millennial consumers want to be part of a “social drinking experience” and are willing to pay a premium for unique ingredients or a compelling brand story. “If you cannot deliver an experience with your product, it does not have the same connection to this consumer group,” she said.

Professor Kellershohn’s work has been presented at conferences such as the American Marketing Association (AMA) and American Collegiate Retailing Association (ACRA) triennial conference and published in Innovations in Technologies for Fermented Food and Beverage Industries (Springer International Publishing, 2018) and Handbook of Brewing, Third Edition (Taylor and Francis, 2018).