Foodservice habits of the college Millennial becoming clear

Aug. 27, 2012 | by Alicia Kelso

The Millennial generation's influence on foodservice dollars is starting to make a dent. Millennials made more than 13 billion of the 59 billion visits made to foodservice establishments in 2010 and spent $73 billion dollars, according to market research firm The NPD Group.

The generation's sales influence and size – there are currently 52 million Millennials ages 18 to 29 – will increase throughout the next 10 years, particularly driven by immigration. As these consumers hit college campuses this fall – many experiencing financial freedom for the first time ever – marketers and operators are working to build their loyalty and cater to their preferences.

Millennial preferences

Various reports have identified where college-aged Millennials are expected to spend their food dollars. Some of the biggest trends influenced by this group include:

  • Takeout. According to NPD Group's research, more than half of Millennials spend their food budget on takeout orders.
  • Snacks. The demographic spends a higher percentage on snacks, and has a higher incidence of snack food items (mini sandwiches, chicken nuggets, ice cream) than other generations.
  • Diversity: One in five Millennials is Hispanic, so Hispanic marketing efforts are expected to pick up even more than they already have.
  • Value. Value meals and discounts are attractive to a group that is still largely (about 45 percent) not employed.

Culinary influence

Also, according to the Collegiate Gen Y Eating: Culinary Trend Mapping Report, CCD Innovation, college students will develop new eating habits and expectations that will stick with them long after graduation, which will impact the food industry for the long term.

"The college environment, with its campus food courts, self-serve bars and convenience stores, along with plenty of nearby cheap global eats, offers students an exceptional opportunity to experience new foods, flavor profiles and eating styles," said Kimberly Egan, CEO of CCD Innovation. "Just as minds expand in the classroom, palates expand in college and are forever altered. The food industry will need to respond to these adventurous consumers as they leave campus and start earning their own paychecks."

The Collegiate Gen Y Eating report indicates that the college Millennial demographic has a stronger preference for nutrition, flavor, comfort/indulgence and speed/convenience compared to previous generations. These four categories will be the biggest drivers in their dining choices.

The demographic also has a strong preference for seven emerging culinary trends, including:

  • Meatless. More students align themselves along the less-meat to meatless spectrum, including flexitarian, vegetarian, vegan and raw diets.
  • Chickpeas. Students like the inexpensive, versatile and protein-heavy ingredient.
  • Nut butters: College students are embracing peanut butter's valuable protein attributes, along with that of other nut butters such as almond.
  • Fruits and vegetables. New college students are being introduced to more fruits and vegetables thanks to campus salad bars, more vegan/vegetarian options and retailers such as Trader Joe's that offer dried fruit snacks, to-go salads and produce-centric beverages.
  • Asian cuisine. Millennials are more familiar with global cuisine than previous generations. While flavor is the primary driver of Asian cuisine's popularity among the group, other qualities attract students such as the vegetarian possibilities and customization.
  • Familiar comfort (Italian and Mexican cuisine). College isn't without stress, and students tend to gravitate toward comfort food for familiarity. This often translates to Italian and Mexican cuisines.
  • On-the-Go fare. Busy college students want food that is portable and can be eaten quickly.

Late night dayparting

Finally, to really appeal to the Millennial college crowd, operators should focus on their late-night business. New research from food ordering service GrubHub shows that when it comes to daily order volume, nocturnal orders placed on college campuses outpace national averages by up to 70 percent.

"Students everywhere are pulling 'all-nighters' and many restaurants near campus stay open all night to accommodate these schedules," said Susanne Dawursk, GrubHub brand marketing director.

Perhaps surprisingly, smaller private college students outpace larger state schools in late-night ordering.

Colleges with the highest rates of late-night food orders include:

  1. School of the Art Institute, Chicago
  2. Babson College, Boston
  3. Morehouse College, Atlanta
  4. Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas
  5. Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, R.I.

Colleges with the lowest rates of nocturnal dining include:

  1.  Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio
  2. University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla.
  3. Arizona State University, Phoenix
  4. University of Central Florida, Orlando, Fla.
  5. Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J.

Read more about trends and statistics.

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability , Customer Service / Experience , Food & Beverage , Marketing / Branding / Promotion , Operations Management , Trends / Statistics

Alicia Kelso / Alicia has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with, and has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, and Franchise Asia magazine.
View Alicia Kelso's profile on LinkedIn

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