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.

‘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.


The Breakfast Club

Apparently breakfast is the most important meal of the day for fast food purveyors. As of late, it’s a battle out there for morning tastebuds and dollars. Breakfast represents a lucrative growth opportunity in the fast food market – and also a way to capture the most coveted demographic – Millennials. This is perhaps best exemplified by Taco Bell’s Waffle Taco – designed for one-handed eating while the other hand manages the cell phone. Seriously.

McDonald’s isn’t taking the assault on the Egg McMuffin lying down. For the next few weeks, coffee is free every morning – a lure to get consumers in during the morning rush and chance to offer breakfast with that. And there’s word that the fast food Goliath is considering extending its breakfast hours – an unthinkable alteration to the sacred and magical 10:30 a.m. changeover time. This is in response to the strong brunching trend – especially among Millennials.

I also believe another trend is coming into play that we’ve seen in recent research we’ve done for clients, as well as in our study on the concept of Healthy. Increasingly wellness-aware, consumers are seeking out more sensible quick dining options in the morning and beyond. In response, egg whites, oatmeal and yogurt parfaits can be found at McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks. Even Subway. And thanks to coffee being a day long beverage, Dunkin Donuts has been ahead of the curve with an all-day menu of healthier breakfast-themed alternatives.

Ok, so maybe that Waffle Taco is the outlier when it comes to the healthy trend. But, boy! Does that darn thing look good!