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Highway exit signs help travelers find tourist attractions, fuel, lodging and, of course, food ? albeit mostly fast food. Rarely do these signs direct people to grocery stores, which offer a tremendous variety of healthy on-the-go foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables.
A syndicated study conducted by The Hartman Group, based in Bellevue, Wash., and purchased by Produce Marketing Association (PMA), ?Outlook on the Millennial Consumer 2014,? some of whose findings have been discussed in the August and September 2014 PMA Perspectives columns, tells us that convenience and affordability drive busy, cash-strapped Millennials to rely routinely on fast food, even though they know it?s not healthy. Millennials in the study say they?d prefer healthier quick-service foods over ?traditional? fast food, if only the healthy choice was also the budget-friendly choice.
This is a good sign, pointing to an opportunity for grocery stores to help the biggest generation to date ? estimated at 80 million in the United States alone ? reconcile their desires for convenience, affordability and healthfulness.
A Little Bit of Everything
Millennials are indeed a food-forward generation that eats out more often than their older cohorts; however, the number of Millennials who eat out on a weekly basis has actually dropped in 2014, compared with Hartman?s 2011 study of the group. This decrease reflects a rise in the number of Millennials who are cooking, meal planning and minding their budgets.
Nonetheless, this increase in cooking doesn?t necessarily make Millennials avid cooks. While many like preparing food, they?re pressed for time in their daily routines, and short on ideas for easy and affordable meals. Cooking is often relegated to special events or weekends, when time is easier to come by. As a result, fast food remains part of Millennials? resource-strapped lifestyles.
With the demographic teetering between fast food and home cooking, grocery stores are in a great position to balance this demographic?s needs. On one hand, supermarkets can offer healthier prepared foods that Millennials can grab and eat on the way to work in the morning or at their desks for lunch. On the other hand, grocery stores go one step further with the convenience of retail, giving Millennials semi-prepared options and other food purchases that aid their efforts to cook more and appease their propensity for spontaneous meal planning.
Supermarkets: The Original Freshii
Salads, burritos, wraps, rice bowls, yogurt parfaits, soups ? all easily parlay into competitively priced prepared and ready-to-eat meals and snacks full of affordable fresh fruits and vegetables to satisfy Millennials? taste for convenient, less-processed, fresh, healthy meals. The ability to mix and match from soup and salad bars and the prepared food section also complements their DIY, just-for-me attitude.
This concept actually sounds a lot like Freshii, the fast-food franchise founded in Canada by Matthew Corrin, a Millennial himself. According to the company?s website, Freshii focuses on providing ?fresh and nutritious meal choices that energize people on the go.? An expansive array of vivid fresh fruits and vegetables covers the food prep areas. Messaging often elevates the healthful appeal of fresh produce. When hungry people are faced with the choice between a candy bar and an apple, the company says its goal is simple: ?Freshii wants to be that apple.?
The restaurants have been a huge hit, with the first Canadian location running out of food on its first day before the end of lunch. Today, the franchise has grown to 88 stores in four countries, including 44 in the United States. But there?s a catch: Among the Millennials surveyed by Hartman, many balked at the chain?s prices.
Healthy Shouldn?t be a Tradeoff
It?s important to bear in mind how sensitive Millennials are to money matters. This generation was hit hard by the Great Recession. Many are dealing with unemployment and crippling student debt. And despite being the best-educated generation to come of age, data from the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Research Center show that two-thirds of Millennials between the ages 25 and 32 lack a bachelor?s degree.
But despite everything, price isn?t the whole picture ? quality and relevance to values are also extremely important to Millennials, and Hartman?s research shows they worry about the ?more, faster, cheaper? attitude that relying on fast food symbolizes.
Grocery stores? elevated marketing of affordable prepared foods made with fresh fruits and vegetables stands to resonate loudly with the Millennial generation in more ways than one, allowing them to commit to ideals of healthy eating while remaining budget-conscious and mobile, and even giving them recipe ideas to try at home.
Supermarket retailers can gain greater access to Millennials? daily routines by helping them make better choices from a wide range of healthier alternatives to traditional fast food.
Before Millennials veer too far off the road toward fast food, thinking it?s the only option, our industry can share the story with this important generation that it is possible to eat healthfully on a budget and on the go. Fresh fruits and vegetables are a big part of that story.
Grocery stores? elevated marketing of affordable prepared foods made with fresh fruits and vegetables stands to resonate loudly with the Millennial generation.