Sustainability and local sourcing have traditionally been features that marked “premium” products in the food industry. However, in recent years, Millennials have emerged as the primary driver in taking these products mainstream. For them, premium is the new normal, according to a report released by Maru/Matchbox, a Chicago-based market insights firm.

The study, “The Future of Food: Are You Ready for the Millennials?,” finds that from brand biases to purchasing channels, Millennials display unique and identifiable behavior in their interactions with food that challenge how the food industry should market and sell their products. The report presents a number of significant trends driven by Millennials that are shaping the future of food, including:

  • Millennials have a passion for premium. As noted, Millennials differ from other generations in that they are more likely to expect features traditionally seen as premium. Some of these preferences are obvious, such as 61% of Millennials expect foods to be GMO-free, compared to 46% of those aged 50-plus. Meanwhile, 54% of Millennials expect ancient grain to be included in their foods, compared to 29% aged 50-plus.
  • Millennials put their money where their mouth is. Not only do they expect premium products, they are willing to pay for them too. This is because “organic” and “natural” products make Millennials feel more responsible and health conscious, and therefore deserving of a higher price. 68% of Millennials are willing to pay more for organic foods, and 66% are willing to pay more for sustainable foods ¾ that's around 30% more than those aged 55-plus. 
  • Millennials trust small and local. Smaller brands have been gobbling up half the growth in premium sales (larger manufacturers have settled for a 3% share to date) because Millennials associate them more with premium product features and ingredients. 35% of Millennials indicate their trust in smaller brands has grown, while only 18% of those aged 55-plus said the same.
  • Millennials prize choice and convenience. Millennials are the first native-to-the-Internet generation, and 43% say they would buy all of their food online if they could, compared to only 14% aged 50-plus. And, e-commerce opens the door to more choice, smaller brands and manufacturers and more local suppliers.
  • Millennials actively share their food interests on social media. Preferences and expectations are one thing, but Millennials are also great evangelists for the things they love on social media, and their sharing augments the influence of the trends they drive. For example, 69% of Millennials take a photo or video of their meal before eating, essentially creating a free spotlight on the brands or restaurants they choose to feature.

"Millennials are discerning consumers, and they are increasingly willing to pay a premium for brands and products that embody their preferences for authenticity, transparency and responsible ingredient sourcing," says Matt Kleinschmit, managing director, consumer and shopper insights. "The impact of this emergent generation continues to grow as they advance in their careers and become more established, and their habits are dramatically re-shaping the food industry. This report employed leading-edge, community-based research methods to distill the major trends and offers strategies for companies seeking to profit from this new reality."