As baby boomers retire, our industry is planning its future. Many are scratching their heads about this demographic group we call the Millennials. I want to give you a quick snapshot from my perspective of who these Millennials are and some of the characteristics you may watch out for. Millennials, children of the baby boomers, are also known as Generation Y or Generation 9/11, as a Newsweek article branded them in 2001. They are more civic minded with a strong sense of both local and global community. Jean Twenge, the author of “Generation Me,” considers Millennials and younger members of Generation X to be what she calls Generation Me. She attributes Millennials with traits of confidence and tolerance, but also identifies a sense of entitlement and narcissism based on personality surveys that show increasing narcissism among Millennials compared with preceding generations. The liberal-leaning think tank, Pew Research Center, issued a report in March about how Millennials in adulthood are detached from institutions, have low social trust and are networked with friends digitally.
The generation also has been branded as Trophy Kids, because they frequently were rewarded simply for participating in sports or other activities, rather than being rewarded for winning or excelling at them. Some employers are concerned that Millennials’ expectations for the workplace are too high. Studies predict Millennials will switch jobs frequently and hold more jobs than GenXers because of their great expectations. Educational sociologists describe Millennials’ approach to social change as pragmatic idealism with a deep desire to make the world a better place.
Many commentaries on Millennials may be overly general, however. For every trait attributed to Millennials, either positive or negative, there will be an exception to the rule. Many traits used to describe this group apply primarily to affluent whites, who grew up in the suburbs and had the financial and social support of affluent parents. Blacks and Hispanics from the same age group describe how some or all of the so-called Millennials core traits do not apply to them. They often do not display the same attributes commonly attributed to the stereotypical whites of their age.
Because of unemployment or debt, many Millennials still live at home, not wanting to move out until they can afford a lifestyle they have been accustomed to. This contributes to grazing in the household versus family meals, driving small packages and individual servings in grocery sales.
How does this generation relate to us in the food, beverage and restaurant industries? Many of these Millennials lived on fast food in the car as they ran from one activity to another but now insist on organic and natural products. Vegetarianism among this generation is not just a trend, but rather a conscious choice. The same goes for their choices in cleaning products, clothing and so much more. Being environmentally aware of not just where their food comes from, but fair trade practices and quality of the product influence purchasing decisions. I was recently told by one middle-class Millennial who lives in a large city that cost is the last factor in his decision to buy a product.
Conversely, there are many Millennials faced with high unemployment in an economy that is looking for experienced workers with specific skills. Millennials who didn’t finish or even attend college are now faced with the choices of working in what they consider sub-par positions. Some were raised to look down on servers and fast-food workers, which may explain the difficulty we have in staffing our restaurants and retail stores. Among those who did complete college, many are unemployed while others are underemployed. But as a whole, Millennials excel at technical skills that older workers rarely possess, which creates a niche employment opportunity for some.
The product lifecycle of items they adopt and reject is much shorter than their baby boomer parents. They are smart and well informed, technologically savvy and have grown up in a society in which the next bigger and better thing just six months away. Keeping on top of the latest and greatest things gives the outside appearance of selfishness. Very few things these days being are being repaired as a newer version can cost less than the repair itself. Millennials are prime consumers of social media and use it as a tool to determine purchases.
In closing, buckle up for the ride that these Millennials will take us on. It will make us be more responsive and pay closer attention to consumers’ needs and wants. Product development will continue to be important as will the way we market to this population. Catering to the ever-changing whims may be challenging, but I suggest to those of you that want to move forward to stay on top of the buzz words and distinctiveness that these Millennials will bring to us.
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