Food, Friends, Fun: Courting the Millennial Diner

Have you heard? Endless Appetizers are better and back at TGIFridays. Not on your radar? Maybe because chances are you aren’t part of the most coveted consumer group today, Millennials.

The casual dining chain is just the latest using behavioral lures to fill seats with GenY spenders.  Endless  Apps were a very successful gimmick last year, especially with Millennial diners. This time around, the chain is removing limits on choices – a rule that Millennials found unappealing.

TGIFridays strategy aligns with our recent findings around Millennials and food. Our study shows that food Gen Yers are particularly interested in experimenting with food, creating experiences around dining, and sharing the occasion with others.  By allowing Millennials to customize their meal with friends around small plates is a home run for the chain. 

Is your food, beverage or dining brand clicking with Millennials? Hear the latest insights that could help your positioning and product development efforts in our upcoming webinar, Understanding How Millennials View Food & Nutrition.  We’ll be covering behavior, emotions, influences, and more. Click to register for Tuesday, March 10th or Wednesday, March 11th.

Dining Trends in the Age of Millennials

Are Millennials behind the demise of fast food as we know it? Or to borrow from Mark Twain, are the reports of McDonald’s death greatly exaggerated? If you’ve been reading the financial news, McDonald’s seems to be in trouble – the theories abound as to why. Some point an accusatory finger at Millennials.

We have already written about the challenges of consumer product companies and fast casual establishments in capturing the taste buds of the coveted consumer group born between 1981-2000: Millennials. Their habits and preferences are shaking things up across multiple categories. Gen Y seems to increasingly favour companies like Chipotle and Panera, as well as Shake Shack and Five Guys. What’s notable is that all of these are part of the “fast casual” dining trend.

So what’s the link between Millennials and this trend? We recently conducted a study of Millennials and their attitudes about nutrition, and we are presenting at the Food & Drink Innovation Network conference in London.  Our study finds that taste, quality and experience matter tremendously to the Gen Y consumer – all hallmarks of the “fast casual”.

To Millennials, overall nutrition is important, and they want fast food to be healthier and better quality. While they are active and conscientious grocery shoppers, they do allot a significant portion of their budget to eating out. That means there’s significant opportunity for restaurant marketers to capture share of wallet.

To receive an executive brief of our Millennials & Nutrition findings, click here. And watch this space for the webinar on the subject in March.

Millennials + Sustainability

These days, it seems like everyone’s jumped onto the ‘going green’ bandwagon. Fast fashion retailer H&M is offering its customers a coupon for 15% off their next purchase every time they bring in a bag of used clothing to any store. In Sweden, McDonald’s launched a campaign in which you receive a free burger or cheeseburger for every 10 empty beer cans you bring in; 40 cans gets you a Big Mac. In further promotion of the campaign, McDonald’s has even installed billboards that double as trash bags for those walking by to easily pull off and fill with all their cans. What do these campaigns and earth-friendly initiatives have in common? They’re all aimed at Millennials.

Having recently become the largest generation group in the country, Millennials are the ones shopping at fast fashion stores and they used to be McDonald’s key customer base, until recently. This month, McDonald’s reported their biggest decline since 2003 and also found that diners between the ages of 19 to 21 have gone down by 12.9% since the start of 2011. The fast food chain has admitted that its latest campaign was an attempt to reach out to the Millennial generation, specifically the young music festival attendees in Sweden.

But, the question remains: are these efforts to appeal to the Millennial generation through green initiatives working? Millennials may say that they place a high value on issues such as social responsibility and sustainability, but are they actually following through on that? Or maybe it’s the campaigns that need to change – are companies able to effectively communicate their green initiatives to their Millennial consumers? When it comes to these topics, what are their perceptions? When it comes down to making a purchase, do they really care about companies being committed to sustainability?

We will be exploring several of these questions in our upcoming webinar in which we do a deep dive comparing Millennial, Boomer and Gen X perceptions on the word Sustainability. If your brand is tackling the challenge of increasing the connection consumers have with sustainability, check out our latest webinar.

‘Infobesity’, The Power of Imagery and Temptation

I am an avid reader of the impact of technology on consumer’s lives. I read, listen and watch blogs, newsfeeds, Twitter, TV, podcasts and even ‘old style’ books and magazines (Imagine that?!). The issue for me is that with all of this input I am finding that there are times when I find the information overwhelming. I think I am suffering from the symptoms of ‘infobesity’. (I am not a fan of these concatenated words but I think this expression captures the ‘illness’ precisely.)

There is an increasing amount of evidence for ‘infobesity’. Its origins are according to some biologists derived from our evolutionary development.  Humans haven’t (yet?) evolved to cope with the amount of sensory input that we are now exposed to. Robin Dunbar – a British anthropologist – has found a “correlation between primate brain size and average social group size. By using the average human brain size and extrapolating from the results of primates, he proposed that humans can only comfortably maintain 150 stable relationships”. No wonder I am struggling: I probably interact with that many people in a day!

An article in Fast Company helped me to connect ‘digital eating’ with real diets in a fascinating way. The article describes that restaurants found customers using touchscreens when ordering food typically order more food and spend more money. This holds true for at home customers ordering takeaway from their tablets as well as customers ordering from an in-store touchscreen menu.

The reason for this increase in spending is apparently due to having a visual image of all the food possibilities in front of them. This encouraged customers to try new items or add to their order as an impulse buy. Eat24 is an online food ordering service, and their CMO puts it, “When you’re going over the menu, you are exposed to all the options. You’ll try stuff you never thought about ordering over the phone.” So instead of picking up the phone and going with just their typical order, customers see all the different options available to them and add on to their lunch, whether it be extra toppings on their sandwich or impulsively deciding to try a couple side dishes.

This brings me back to the idea that our primate subconscious can be easily triggered and visual imagery is really powerful. When we see images of food, or a list of all food options available to us, we are appealing to our atavistic and inquisitive selves.  The ease of adding on an order is clearly too great an impulse to ignore. The ‘rules’ of the subconscious mind states that when there is a conflict between the conscious and subconscious minds, the subconscious mind typically always wins out. This is a good explanation of why Oscar Wilde said ‘I can resist everything but temptation.’

Overall, my take away (Excuse the pun) from this is that it is a good reminder of why images and pictures are so powerful. They are deep seated in our evolution and that’s why we use them in our work.


Gluten-Free Trend: Fading Fast or Built to Last?

In our sneak peek back in February, we asked: is going against the grain an enduring health trend, or will another development in health and nutrition soon take its place? According to our study this food fad is here to stay. And a trip through the grocery store confirms that it’s not going to slow down any time soon.

Since the FDA released their official definition for gluten-free back in August, the gluten free category  has grown exponentially – taking up more and more shelf space in grocery stores, and recently expanding into the restaurant industry. In fact, both Chick-fil-A and Olive Garden recently announced they have changed up their recipes in hopes of catering to the growing ranks of grain-free diners. And supply chain cooperative, SpenDifference recently released findings from their Chain Restaurant Menu Price Tracking Survey that found 55% of the chains surveyed said they currently serve gluten-free food, with 52% planning to add to their gluten-free menu and 7% planning to start.*

Who are these gluten-free consumers and what makes them tick? To learn more, we recently conducted our own gluten-free study that included 100 gluten-free purchasers to find out the why, what, and where behind these consumers. According to our findings, restaurants that are extending their menus to include gluten-free food and beverage options – such as Starbucks, Panera, and Applebee’s – are moving in the right direction, as 8 in 10 agree that eating gluten-free is harder when eating out, yet only 1/3 of these gluten-free purchasers know of a restaurant, bakery, and/or café that offers gluten-free items. To see what else we found, take a look at our gluten-free infographic below.

2014.04 BuzzBack Gluten-Free Infographic




Have an idea for a BuzzPoll? Let us know! Or for more information about our Gluten-Free BuzzPoll, click here.

 * SpenDifference, Chain Restaurant Menu Price Tracking Survey, January 2014, pgs. 2,5 

Is Tea the New Coffee?

If you haven’t heard, Starbucks just opened its first Teavana Tea Bar in Manhattan in hopes of slicing out its share of the $90 billion global tea market. They are looking to open at least 1,000 more of these bars within 10 years.

At BuzzBack we were also fascinated in the growing interest of tea, and conducted our own BuzzPoll to better understand what was driving consumers.

Not surprisingly, the focus is on tea’s health benefits. But not only that … drinking tea is also a state of mind.

In our study, we asked consumers who drink tea to create an online collage that expressed the thoughts, feelings, and associations that come to mind when they think about brewed tea. Below are some examples from our eCollage™ tool.

tea 1
“Tea makes me think of relaxation, meditation, nature and health.”
tea 2
“It is a quiet time to sit and enjoy the day and reflect on life. Since I like the herbal teas and flavored teas the fruits are a reminder of them. The cup is a reminder of my mother and her love of the afternoon tea break using one of her many fancy tea cups.”
tea 3
“Tea is a refreshing, soothing, delightful, and social beverage. You have to slow down to prepare and drink it.”













However, don’t expect tea drinkers to give up coffee. In our BuzzPoll, about two-thirds of brewed tea consumers still drink coffee almost every day and Starbucks is banking on that too. While the Teavana Tea Bars will have a more relaxed, leisurely atmosphere where people come come in, sit back and relax, customers will still want to pop in to Starbucks for an on-the-go beverage.

Click here for more information on our tea study.