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    Made to Order

    Choosy millennials place growing importance on variety, customization.

    By Allison Bardic

    Whether they’re designing their way to countless versions of pizzas, sandwiches, pastas or burritos, today’s empowered consumers want more control over their food purchases than ever before.

    The increasingly high expectation for customization, which has reshaped the foodservice industry with fast casual restaurants like Chipotle and Blaze Pizza, is a primary influencer in millennial shopping habits in particular. Any study that delves into how to sell to this much-talked-about generation suggests that retailers should give millennials exactly what they want as quickly and seamlessly as possible.

    Rockville, Md.-based Packaged Facts’ recently released report, “Millennial Menus: Culinary Trend Tracking Series,” observed that millennials may be largely defined by their individualism, an attribute that extends to their food choices. The market research firm highlighted customization as one of the Top 5 food trends driven by millennial shoppers, who now make up the nation’s largest living generation.

    “Today's consumers in general and millennials in particular want food items that are fresh, creative and made just for them,” Packaged Facts reported. “That's where the customization trend comes in—and it's hotter than ever in the fast-growing fast casual segment … More than a third of millennials order something different every time they visit a restaurant. What better way to entice them to a restaurant than to offer a mix-and-match dining experience where they can build something different every time.”

    Meanwhile, London-based market research firm Technavio has released research pointing to growing innovation and customization in food menus as a major growth factor in the global foodservice market. The research suggested that a main impetus for customization is the increasing importance of diet, whether related to a medical condition, food allergy or weight reduction plan.

    “Customers nowadays are looking for a combination of food infused with new and bold flavors. The demand for innovative and exotic flavored food is more prominent among millennials. In addition, they are looking for options to customize their food based on their calorie intake per day,” explained Arushi Thakur, a food research expert for Technavio.

    For the deli and prepared food industry, variety and meal customization represent a major opportunity, with an increasing number of stores mimicking restaurants and featuring a myriad of stations at which adventurous consumers can customize their food choices at a moment’s notice. 

    Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market customizes its stores based on the communities they serve. Its second Brooklyn, N.Y., location, which opened in July 2016, features some of New York’s most-beloved as well as up-and-coming food favorites, such as poke bowls, sushi, small batch and seasonal ice cream, handmade pizzas and freshly baked Puccia sandwiches in a food hall setting. The store also offers its expansive prepared foods department including salad bars designed for customization, a hot food bar and a variety of in-house, chef-made seasonal options.

    “We worked very closely with each of the vendors to customize their menu and create special partnerships to provide our shoppers with a unique dining experience they simply can’t get anywhere else,” explained Daniel Lachs, culinary coordinator for Whole Foods Market’s Northeast region.

    For customers seeking to personalize their food choices and save even more time, the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association’s 2015 research study, “Culinary Concierge: Engaging Millennials Through Meals,” explored various prepared food options including a pickup station where consumers can grab online-ordered customized meals.

    “This concept is good for busy schedules. Jump online to create your order to the specifications of you and your family; on your way home from work, stop at the store and pick up your customized, complete meal; zip home and set it out for everyone to enjoy,” the research explained, adding that potential shoppers viewed the customization aspect as important for health and dietary needs as well as personal flavor preferences.

    “This would be huge for me because I am a mom and work full-time” one surveyed respondent said. “If I could order dinner online and just swing by the grocery store on the way home, I would be all in! It would feel healthier and I would feel part of the process because I picked out what I wanted my family to eat.”

    By Allison Bardic
    • About Allison Bardic

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