Consumer behaviouralist Ken Hughes says the millennial generation, aged between 18 and 34, does not want carbon copy brands rather bespoke retail experiences and a story to go with each hand-crafted product.
He also says the food industry is about five or six years behind this curve. But just as the hotel industry has had to adapt following the success of Airbnb and the transport industry due to Uber, the food industry will too.
And although somewhat slow, this was already happening through personalised nutrition, new eating experiences and the increasing interplay between food and social media apps..
Speaking at the Milan Expo, Hughes gave some examples: “There is now an app called The Happy Fork that monitors every mouthful and whether you are eating too quickly. People today are looking for shared experiences not mass consumerism. Take the new JaffleChutes in the US – your sandwich arrives by parachute and you eat with the crowd who have also made it to the white cross on the ground near your office.”
Mass produced with a bespoke touch
But while a concept like Jafflechutes may generate a lot of clicks and shares among digital natives, does it have lasting appeal? And is it financially viable to offer unique, personalised food and beverages on a mass scale?
Mintel analyst Regina Haydon thinks so.
"Consumers are increasingly keen on being a part of the product development process together with the manufacturer. It’s a win-win situation as it helps to fulfil consumer expectations more easily and saves the manufacturer resources,” she said.
“Personalisation and specific targeting presents a huge opportunity, and a financial benefit to boot: by allowing consumers to get exactly what they want, when and how they want it, brands not only build a more personal relationship, they can also avoid wasting money, time and resources on things their consumer does not want."
But food manufacturers might need to think outside the box a little too if they are to snap up seemingly unlikely opportunities: A Mintel report shows considerable demand (43%) among millennials for fruit-flavoured coffee such as blueberry, raspberry or orange – despite the fact that coffee and real fruit flavours clash, requiring indulgent bakery flavours to soften any potential flavour collision.
Millennials are also open to ethnic food and tend not to stick to traditional recipes compared to their older counterparts - meaning opportunities for flavour variations of classic lines - while innovative packaging can also appeal. Mintel analyst David Turner pointed to Maggi’s papyrus paper spice seasoning as an example that combines both.
Appeal to values
Companies could also reach out to millennials through shared values. Issues such as sustainability, organic, fair trade and locally-sources ingredients all hold sway - despite a common stereotype that pigeonholes this generation as self-centred selfie-takers.
Robert Madelin, director general for the Commission’s DG Connect, said: "My personal sense is that this issue of food waste is going to get bigger before it becomes smaller.
“The notion that our food waste is basically stolen food from poorer people is going to be mainstream with the young generation… They care about other people while all the time taking selfies."
But as the most indebted generation, young consumers today do not always have the purchasing power to act on their beliefs. US market research group, Hartman Group, said: “Millennials are knowledgeable and passionate about social and environmental issues... however, their current economic reality limits their ability to act on these concerns.”
A recent report by Future Shopping looked at the purchasing habits of over 2000 UK shoppers and confirmed this, finding that over half believed organic products to be important – 24% more than over-55s – but a much smaller proportion bought organic fruit and vegetables.