It takes each of us to foster a culture where all voices are heard and differences embraced. It takes each of us to – as this year's official International Women's Day theme communicates – Make It Happen.
Food unifies strangers, friends and family alike – satisfying hunger and sparking emotional connectivity. The way today’s consumer intersects with food has shifted significantly. Foodie culture now sits firmly in the mainstream and has emerged as an increasingly important part of consumer social DNA.
Pop culture has demystified the sanctity of food and influenced our growing affinity. However, the biggest driver has been preferences of the “foodie” generation (aka Millennials). In a way very distinct from prior generations, Gen Y views food as a means for personal storytelling and self-expression. They’re posting food creations (even adorably combining food + baby love), searching for cool curated foodie content and checking in on social to share the best food experiences. These levels of engagement have altered perspective and caused many to view the food conversation as a source of shared values and community.
Today’s “foodgramming” Gen Y is redefining the intersection of food and community in a variety of ways. It’s all about being together when it comes to food. According to the experts at Future Cast, Millennials prefer to go grocery shopping with friends rather than go alone. They also tend to feel less comfortable eating a meal alone (45 percent vs. 54 percent of older consumers). Interestingly, their collective love of travel, cultural exploration and food sharing has inspired global supper clubs like Eat With – described as the Airbnb for breaking bread with locals in their homes.
When it comes to food experiences, Gen Y is seeking convenience, low prices and unique foods and flavors. They see food as a means for expression related to other important touch points like travel and social good.
Brands connected to food culture and ones with less direct ties have activated experiential and digital channels to connect with consumers. For instance, IBM partnered with the Institute of Culinary Education to showcase a recipe-generating program and featured it via a food truck appearing at SXSW. Other more food-centric brands leveraged Instagram for campaign executions, like Applebee’s Fantographer, and targeted paid media, like Chobani’s integration. In both cases, elevating engagement and helping shift brand perceptions.
Beyond the incredibly relevant Millennial segment, marketers should look to the future and consider how population shifts will be influencing food culture. NPD Group’s report – The Future of Eating: Who’s Eating What in 2018? – indicates over the next five years Hispanics will have the most tangible impact on food. The report suggests Hispanics (and young people generally) want to be more involved with their meals. This means future mainstream food habits will likely include from-scratch preparation and less reliance on prepackaged box foods.
Consider some of these approaches to deliver authentic messages and engage food culture focused consumers:
- Embrace eco: Millennials feel it’s important to be socially responsible foodies. In fact, 70 percent of millennials are buying less bottled water because of the negative environmental impact. Appeal to their affinity for socially conscious food production (locally sourced) and packaging. Of course, focus on organics and healthy living is also relevant.
- Storytell: Millennials are especially interested in the story behind their food and looking to learn more about what’s in it and how it’s made. They want to know more about how their food is made, and they think brands don’t disclose enough about their products. Give them a story to learn, love and share.
- Think gender neutrality: Millennials are more likely than previous generations to be gender neutral when it comes to the role of cooking (61 percent of females and 60 percent of males enjoy cooking). Just as fashion and retail shopping have emerged as gender-neutral topics, approach food with equal balance.
- Appeal to cultural inclusivity: Millennials consider food an adventure and seek out different, ethnic and artisan foods (40 percent like to try new kinds of ethnic cuisines).
Topics: Consumer Insights
The fashion (think crop tops + overalls) has reappeared at retail. The music (think NKOTB + Backstreet Boys) has returned with large-scale tours. The hit TV shows (think Boy Meets World) have been updated with original stars (now Girl Meets World). There are listicles offering reminders of the decade’s best pop culture. The 1990’s are back!
The events of the 1990’s – including the emergence of digital technology and the movement toward multiculturalism – shaped the sentiment, perspective and preferences of today’s highly influential and coveted Millennial population.
Interestingly, the biggest and most diverse generation in history has demonstrated what may be considered a case of early onset nostalgia for its (not too distant) wonder years. Gen Y’s affinity for reaching back to the past (think #TBTs) corresponds with their most notable characteristic: documenting life’s “pose + post” experiences through a constant stream of social content.
From products to pop culture, brand marketers are leveraging Gen Y’s heart for their formative years to foster deeper connections. Appealing to grown-up 90’s kids, General Mills recently reintroduced the popular (but discontinued) French Toast Crunch cereal. The move was a response to trending online conversations and a series of dedicated Facebook groups (Gen Y makes their voice heard again!) and resulted in a spike in positive social engagement and media coverage for the brand.
Recognizing a significant life stage shift for Gen Y (many are now parents), brands are tapping 90’s nostalgia to reach those making purchase decisions for their own Gen Z kids. In 1991, Hasbro introduced Puppy Surprise, a dog toy that came with either three, four or five puppies. The brand’s new parent, Just Play, brought the toy back in 2014 and fueled advance buzz by offering it to bloggers and various influencers (many who played with it as kids). Even retailers were surprised by the crush for demand, causing the brand to actually pull TV advertising as it moved to get more product on shelves.
What it means + what to think about
Nostalgia can serve as a powerful tool for marketers. Recent clinical research has demonstrated the positive effects of nostalgia – counteracting loneliness, boredom and anxiety. Reflecting on happy memories makes people feel good about the future and offers a stronger sense of social connectivity.
While utilizing nostalgia cues and triggers for communications engagement is not entirely novel, it has emerged as a significant channel to effectively reach and influence Gen Y. Perhaps even more than prior generations, Millennials tend to attach greater emotional equity to the culture that defined their youth (80% still like to watch movies and shows that came out when they were kids).
Topics: Consumer Insights
Uncovering Gen Y trends and influence is a hot button concern for many brand communication stewards (thanks Captain Obvious). On a serious note, we get it. Harnessing touch points for the digital native generation is a mandatory to drive engagement and build brand equity.