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    Expert Column: Solve the Millennial Dilemma

    Tips on how to attract this burgeoning shopper base

    By Bob Shaw, Concentric

    Although Millennials (consumers age 18-33) are just now entering their prime household spending years, they're already redefining our shopping landscapes, and the sheer size of this 80 million-strong cohort requires retailers to care more and adapt faster. As a brand development and insights firm focused on CPG, Concentric has done extensive work to reveal the differentiators and nuances underlying this influential group. Obviously, there’s no magic formula for success, just patterns and wisdom gained in the course of paying attention:

    • Abundant Choice: In all aspects of their lives, Millennials expect choice. They've grown up in a world where anything and everything is one click away — from music to movies to information. Heightened expectations apply to food choices, too, but choice doesn't necessarily translate to them as an 80,000-SKU superstore. On the contrary, Millennials often prefer to shop specialty and smaller retailers that expose them to more unique offerings. They've grown up buying groceries in lots of different places to get what they want. For them, choice is the "right" items, a bit of a treasure hunt keeps things interesting.
    • Bore No More: Words will always matter, but pictures reign supreme with each passing day. The Instagram Generation is drawn to eye candy; visual interest is mandatory. Therefore, packaging matters more. As channels compete with each other -- food as entertainment is becoming hot --store layout matters more. Merchandising needs to engage. Boredom isn't an option with Millennials, so paint a better picture.
    • The World View: New flavors and ethnic foods are escalating on a broader scale, and at an ever-faster pace. The good news is that Millennials find groceries pretty interesting. Unlike their parents, they grew up eating Thai and Cajun cuisines, along with that now all-American staple, sushi. The Internet has given them infinite access to a global world. With far more sophisticated palates, they expect new and different products like the next sriracha to be right around the corner. That means that the "let's all carry the safe top-60 items" mindset that drove a shift in category management during the '90s, doesn't fit this customer's need — and must be recalibrated quickly.
    • Better, to a Point: Millennials are more educated on nutrition and have more access to healthier foods. However, "selectively healthy" eating behavior and skepticism toward health claims tend to negate of a true paradigm shift. About 20 percent of Millennials are interested in better nutrition and better health, and act upon it, but for the rest, it's more about feeling like they're making slightly better choices. Therefore, too much focus on superfunctional and organic may be a mistake.
    • Just Get Real: They've grown up in a warp-speed world, yet -- or maybe because of this –- Millennials are looking for products that are closer to basic and shout "authentic" and "local." "Real" is the new natural to this demographic. They're the champions of craft brew culture, committed to this movement regardless of the higher cost. "Real" is also their nutritional dogma: Food products made with real ingredients are their top requirement as they seek out products that contain fewer and more recognizable components.
    • Cooking Light: Millennials grew up watching the Food Network. They care about cooking, but define it differently. They like the idea of "cooking," which for them is mostly preparing components rather than a meal entirely from scratch. Products that create a sense of cooking within the 30-minute prep threshold will win. When it comes to cooking and shopping for groceries, they believe gender is irrelevant; men and women are remarkably similar in roles and expectations.
    • The New Traditionalists: Millennials are closer, even physically, to their parents than any generation since World War II. Their parents' food brands, the beloved staples of their childhoods, like DiGiorno, Hot Pockets, and Kraft Mac and Cheese, remain part of their identities — fond memories in their warp-speed world. However, they're quick to abandon brands, especially shoppers under 25, if companies don't continue to cultivate that loyalty and stay relevant.
    • Tell Me a Story: Contrary to popular belief, Millennials aren't anti-marketing. They publicly applaud brands perceived as genuine and clever, and criticize those they see as contrived –- or misguided. This cohort is astute to concepts like "spin" and "branding." They'd also prefer you not flood their private channels like Facebook and kill them with hashtags. Millennials expect to be entertained, but have an intense dislike for being pandered to, so be careful -- and clever.
    By Bob Shaw, Concentric
    • About Bob Shaw Bob Shaw founded Concentric, a Cambridge, Mass.-based branding, insights and innovation firm, 14 years ago, after several stints in more "traditional" ad agencies. In that span, Concentric has helped guide more than 170 brands from startup to Fortune 100. His unique philosophy and approach to CPG marketing is heavily informed by the real-life learnings gained from nine years of retail experience in grocery and drug marketing and category management.

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