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Simple steps to attracting “healthy” and distrustful Millennials

bigstock-Woman-Checking-Info-On-Package-153631799Everyone in the food and agriculture sectors keeps hearing about Millennials, generally defined as people aged 18 – 35 and now the largest consumer segment. Unfortunately, many of the senior management in these industries aren’t Millennials themselves.

They don’t really understand them. And sometimes they may even resent them for “upsetting the apple cart” and demanding changes to established food and agricultural brands and practices.

Not surprisingly then, many of the strategic plans made by these senior leaders aren’t as successful as they would have hoped.  Some major food brands try to sidestep this issue by buying and retaining small young brands that do “get” Millennials.

The good news is that even the largest and most stubborn food brands and producers can profit from Millennials. In many cases they may not have to do much more than reconfigure how they talk about their “products”. There are hundreds of studies on Millennials. The key take-outs are that, beyond sustenance, Millennials are convinced that food is central to health, adventure and identity.

Part 1: Leveraging Millennials’ obsession with Health.  

A quick search on social media will turn up a wide range of key words that Millennials associate with desirable food and agricultural practices.  These include organic, unprocessed, pure, natural, vegan, provenance, certified, “free from”, and endorsements by celebrity cooks/chefs.

The most obvious theme that links these terms is “not unhealthy”. For example, food that doesn’t contain “chemicals” or hasn’t been grown in ways that could be identified as harmful. Whilst addressing these ideals may take some brands and producers considerable time and money, the path forward is usually quite clear. However, there is also a darker theme in the appeal of these simple words.  That is a fundamental lack of trust in large organisations.

Distrust in large organisations

In contrast to Baby Boomers, Millennials have grown up surrounded by major organisations knowingly engaging in practices that are illegal, immoral and/or dangerous to their customers.  To Millennials, it seems that there are guilty players in every sector. The revelations from the Royal Commission into banking are just the latest example.

In the FMCG space, big brands have been in the news recently for the wrong reasons, including Heinz over claims of misleading packaging. Economically important practices such as live sheep exporting have also come into the spotlight. Irrespective of the outcomes, each successive headline further erodes consumer trust.

Millennials therefore look for more specific “signals” to indicate that their foods can be trusted.  They might wonder what a food brand is hiding behind a general claim of being “good for you”, but they believe that less ambiguous terms like “pure” hold brands to more stringent, and enforceable, standards.  It’s the same with celebrity chefs etc. Consumers believe that because their name and reputation are associated with it, these individuals will take personal accountability for the products they endorse.

So how do you get them back on side?

The first step is obvious. Stop doing things that are illegal, immoral and/or dangerous to your customers. The next step is to take active steps to change the “default” negative assumptions of all major organisations.

Look for unambiguous signals to build trust in your organisation and brand. Fortunately, you may already be doing or complying with these things. That may take the form of certifications that your organisation already holds, or its safety record.  Some egg brands cite the size of the roaming space given to each hen. Some other egg brands link their eggs to specific farms or farmers. It often doesn’t matter whether the consumer actually understands the details of the message; all they are looking for is a clear “standard” against which to hold the brand accountable.

Interestingly, consumer research has found that there can be a halo effect.  A producer that goes on record to say that all of their workers receive the legal wage is more likely to be perceived as also producing healthier food. It can be hard for organisations to see themselves through the eyes of their customers and to identify the messages within their current practices that will build consumer trust and desirability.

Dr. Angeline Achariya is the CEO of Monash Food Innovation Centre, which works with Australia’s largest food brands and agricultural organisations.

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