Unlimited sources, no answers: Learning food behaviors in the iPhone age
When looking at IFIC and IFIC Foundation’s vast library of consumer research, themes commonly emerge, including special consumer groups with different and specific views and behaviors than the rest of the population. Indeed, IFIC’s and other research has recently illuminated the unique set of perceptions held by Millennials; that is, those aged 18-34, born between 1980 and 1996. But where do they stand on various food and health issues, how do their views stack up to the rest, and what are the opportunities for engaging with this group to raise awareness and encourage healthful food behaviors?
Millennials are busy people who are skeptical of authoritative views and don’t feel an urgency to plan. IFIC’s “Perceptions of Eating and Drinking Occasions” research (2013) indicates Millennials are more likely to cite emotional reasons for eating and are less dependent on habit and routine than older adults. They are independent thinkers and try to make decisions and take actions that are practical and consistent with their peers and families.
Most Millennials depend upon the internet for information, but this unlimited access to information makes it a challenge to determine the accuracy and credibility of various sources or to determine those that are credible. Millennials are highly skeptical of information they see and hear unless it comes from a known source such as a friend or family member. They value practical evidence, preferring to hear from sources like themselves who have met with success. Visual formats are often preferred.
Millennials (18-24 year olds) are the age group most likely to rate their diet as not too or not at all healthful (27 percent). Two main knowledge gaps are: 1) what is an appropriate serving size, and 2) how many calories per day is appropriate for them. Their key barriers to healthful eating are: Lack of time, leading to a need to eat things “on the go," and lack of money. Additionally, Millennials do a lot of their eating with friends, which often compromises their ability to make the most healthful food choices.
Both IFIC Foundation’s 2014 Food and Health Survey and IFIC’s focus group research with Millennials (2013) confirm that Millennials value the healthfulness of their food, but admit that they often don’t eat healthfully. Price and convenience are major factors for Millennials and, although they are digital natives, there is little guidance targeted specifically at helping them make healthful food choices. They find it difficult to tailor dietary guidance to their unique set of lifestyle circumstances, often living on one salary, with relatively lower incomes. According to Les Berglass, CEO of Berglass + Associates, the research firm that conducted the 2013 survey, “What Happens When Millennials Get the Wallet” along with Women’s Wear Daily, “Retailers do not fully understand the needs of Millennials and are employing marketing strategies that do not apply to them.”
IFIC’s research shows that Millennials would be likely to consider “organic,” fresh food as the most healthful, but find it too expensive to fit their budget. They seem to be less aware of the nutritional value of more affordable choices such as frozen and canned foods, or the value of meal planning as an economic strategy.
However, Millennials' weight management goals are generally similar to those of other generations. Just over half say they are trying to lose weight (55 percent), about the same as Generation X (61 percent) and Baby Boomers (57 percent). However, six percent are trying to gain weight—more than the 1 to 2 percent who are doing so in the other generations.
Millennials are the least likely to say they think about the number of calories they consume “always or often” (31 percent vs. 41 percent of the older generations combined). Given that Millennials are just as likely as others to be trying to lose weight, their reduced focus on calories may be due to a lack of knowledge or different views about how to lose weight. When those consumers not taking control over their weight are asked why not, Millennials' reasons differ from other generations. For example, they are more likely than older Americans to cite cost and a lack of knowledge about how to manage their weight as reasons for not taking more control over this area of their lives. They are also more likely, along with Gen X-ers, to say they don’t take more control over their weight because they have more important things to worry about, don’t have the time, or don’t have access to exercise facilities.
Millennials like to do their own research and share their knowledge with their peers. They use consensus to determine what makes sense and prefer short, encouraging, visual communications. They are very skeptical of influencers’ motives and tend to believe only sources with whom they can identify. They are very social and share their views over many communication platforms, influencing a wide range of consumers.
Millennials are much more receptive to using technology to keep track of their calories and are more likely to think calorie information on menus would be helpful. Compared to older generations, Millennials are the least likely to consider the presence of the following ingredients in packaged foods: whole grains, sodium, fiber, sugars, fats/oils, trans fats, saturated fats, low-calorie sweeteners, and omega-3s.
Millennials are also less apt than other generations to say that they look at the expiration date on packaged foods.
IFIC’s research highlights opportunities to empower Millennials by overcoming their barriers to healthful eating. Young adult Millennials will be the parents and role models of the next generation, so it is important to consider their unique and diversified communication preferences and formats, trusted sources, and knowledge gaps.
MARCH 2016: Editor’s Note: “Marching” Toward Better Health • 3 Tips to “Savor the Flavor of Eating Right” This National Nutrition Month • 8 Spices from Around the World • Future of Food, Part II: Serving Up Meat, Over Glass • Tip o’ the Mornin’ to You: Don’t Feel Green on St. Patrick’s Day (or Any Day)
FEBRUARY 2016: Editor’s Note: Future Foods, Coming to a Plate Near You • Future of Food, Part I: Food Innovations of Tomorrow • Why You Should Check Food Labels for Potential Allergens • Super Confused About Super Foods? An Educated Consumer Is a Healthy Consumer • How Librarians Prevent the “Dunning-Kruger Effect” • Citrus: Great Fruits for Heart Health
JANUARY 2016: Editor’s Note: Gold Medals and Silver Anniversaries • Feeling List-less? Then Check Out This Litany of New Year’s Food Trends • Happy 25th Anniversary, IFIC Foundation!: Serving Up Food Insights • A History of Communication: Insights from IFIC Foundation’s Sylvia Rowe Fellows
NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2015: Chew on This: A Food Technologist Puts Red and Processed Meat in Perspective • Understanding, Evaluating, and Communicating Nutrition, Part III: Research Funding • Training the Next Generation of Science Communicators, Part II • Achoo!: Food and Other "Prescriptions" for Surviving Cold and Flu Season • When Nutrition Gets Personal: Study Shows New Frontiers in Understanding Glycemic Response
OCTOBER 2015: Orphan Crops • Answering the Challenge of "Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life" • Weeding Through the Facts on Herbicide Resistance • Rainy Day in Nashville Fails to Dampen RDs' Spirits • Understanding, Evaluating, and Communicating Nutrition, Part II • Training the Next Generation of Science Communicators, Part I
SEPTEMBER 2015: 4 Clever Food Safety Hacks • Hashtags & Hyperbole • Understanding, Evaluating, and Communicating Nutrition, Part I
SUMMER 2015: What's Your Health Worth?, EXPO Milano 2015, "Single Study Syndrome"
MAY 2015: Future of Food (EXPO Milano), Grilling Tips, Food & Health Survey Webcast
APRIL 2015: Food & Nutrition Lessons from Mom, Microbiome, Flowers & Food Security
MARCH 2015: Chemophobia, Fitness Trackers, Dietary Guidelines 2015
FEBRUARY 2015: Farming Cocoa for Your Valentine’s Day Chocolate, At the Heart of Fats and Oils
DECEMBER 2014/JANUARY 2015: 2015 Food Trends Forecast, Gluten & Health, Life after PHOs
NOVEMBER 2014: A Very Southern Farm Tour, Diabetes Awareness, Turkey Safety for Thanksgiving
OCTOBER 2014: RDNs for Nutrition Expertise, Nutrition Behavior Profiles, Fall Food Days
SEPTEMBER 2014: Food Safety Month, Physical Activity & Obesity, Using Video for Education
AUGUST 2014: Back-to-School Nutrition, Pesticide & Health, Sustainable Nutrition
JULY 2014: Perceptions of Food Technology, Millennial Food Preferences, Introducing the FACTS Network
MAY/JUNE 2014: Food & Health Survey, Produce Safety, Summer Grilling Tips
APRIL 2014: ASN & Processed Food, "Banned Ingredients"
MARCH 2014: Nutrition is in Bloom - Changes to the NFP, Nutrient Adequacy, Trans Fat Q&A