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Simple steps for attracting “identity driven” Millennials


Millennials are now the hottest segment for modern marketers. Their buying power is huge.

And there is an overabundance of often confusing, and sometimes contradictory, commentary on how to gain their hard earned money.

For food brands, I believe that the key lies in focusing on three unique and intertwined elements of how Millennials relate to food, namely healthadventure and identity.

It is important to note that these three aspects are all just different expressions of a cohesive and deeply ingrained set of beliefs, perceptions and behaviours. It helps our understanding to separate them out, however, the most successful marketing always combines all three in an engaging and innovative manner. For Millennials, the old saying that “You are what you eat” has special meaning.

The Robin Report sums it up well, “More and more, Millennials want their food choices to fit into the ideal image they strive to portray—one that shows their social consciousness, sense of community, concern for health and wellness, and demand for quality and value.”

They communicate their personal identity via social media. The sharing of images of food is a defining Millennial behaviour and is strongly associated with their desire for “adventure” in terms of engaging in new and exotic experiences. The numbers vary slightly depending on which survey you read, however, it is clear that over half of all Millennials post food pictures on social media and/or post information about they meals as they are eating them. But it is not all just one-way traffic with 1/5 Millennials receiving their food news from their friend’s Facebook posts.

Beyond conveying adventure, however, there may be a further aspect of posting food images that relates to identity. One expert equates the sharing of food images among Millennials to how previous generations were obsessed with owning luxury brands. Baby Boomers used cars, clothing, and accessories as conspicuous signals of personal achievement. Millennials, however, are more subtle, individualistic and inward focused.

They reject conspicuous consumption as wasteful, and have a fundamental distrust of big brands most of whom they view as stagnant and lacking in morals. Their distrust is reinforced every time that a big brand is exposed for damaging the environment or only paying lip service to sustainability; both of which are very important to Millennials.

In this context, the posting of unique and interesting food images may provide social cache to Millennials that previous generations had gained from the public displays of their luxury goods. Food images fulfill this role particularly well for Millennials as the foods portrayed don’t have to be expensive, there are many opportunities from which to choose great examples, and the images are easy to share to a wide audience via social media.

Its great to know that Millennials look for health, adventure and identity from their food choices, the challenge is how to leverage the knowledge. One example is the highly successful US grocery chain, Whole Foods Markets.

Whole Foods Markets appears to have explicitly tailored its offer to the Millennial market. The company describes itself as supplying the “finest natural and organic foods available”, having an “unshakeable commitment to sustainable agriculture”, delivering an exciting and fun shopping experience, and being a “mission-driven company”. It’s no wonder that Millennials are happy to both shop there, and to tell others about their purchases.

Remedy Kombucha is a great local example of a Millennial brand. It’s healthy, it’s exotic, and it’s a challenger brand. The backstory of Emmet and Sarah Condon starting the company because they wanted to share their personal commitment to Kombucha appeals directly to the Millennial value set. It’s also worth noting given that only six years after starting, Remedy Kombucha is now a multi-million dollar company.

In summary, its clear that the marketing food brands to Millennials is achievable, and that it can also be highly profitable. But such success takes a distinct focus on providing them with health, adventure and identity.

Two final considerations before you launch into product and marketing development. Millennials expect their chosen brands to take a holistic approach; labeling your cereal as “vegan” will be much more successful if you can also promote that you are using recycled cardboard in your packaging. And be especially careful of misleading Millennials with false claims or a lack of transparency. The same social media they use to promote your brand can also quickly destroy it!

This is the third in a trio of articles on Millennials relationship with food by Dr Angeline Achariya, CEO of the Monash Food Innovation Centre.

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