Millennials, a huge psychographic group born between 1982 and 2002, may ultimately exceed 100 million members, nearly 33% more than Baby Boomers.

This group, composed of children of Gen Xers who had children in normal child-bearing years, children of Baby Boomers who deferred child bearing, and immigrants and their children, is the most racially and ethnically diverse in U.S. history. About 36% of Millennials (also known as Generation Y) are members of a minority group, compared to 14% in our grandparents' time.

The term "Millennials" was popularized by William Strauss and Neil Howe, co-authors of Millennials Rising. The Next Great Generation, published in 2000.

Cherished Children

Millennials are the children of many of our peers. Convinced they could "have it all," boomer "super women" found ways to simultaneously meet the demands of motherhood and professional life.

Despite the fact many Millennials are in two-income families with extraordinary time stresses, these kids are getting more supervision, more parental time and better discipline than their parents. Moms and dads are finding more time for their kids by spending less time on housework, meal preparation, their own personal leisure and with each other. Generation Y includes the "cherished children" that began to appear in 1982 in cars sporting "Baby on Board" signs.

While Boomers grew up in an era of increasing individuality, Millennials are growing up in an era of increasing community. These kids are growing up with a full schedule of activities. They do group projects in school and message friends via the Internet at night.

However, kids today are still driven by fun, just as the children of previous generations. But it's different now, because kids are more instantaneously gratified. Grandparents, wealthier than the previous generation, spend lavishly on their grandchildren. Consequently, many Millennial kids expect a lot of stuff and initially may not be aware of the concept of value. Price/value plays an increasing role, however, as tweens become teens and begin to stretch their earned income to cover more activities and responsibilities.

Generation Y has a great deal of dollar influence and direct spending power. Although teens spend about $13-27 billion annually, only 10+% of these dollars are directed toward food, mostly soft drinks, snacks, cookies, confections and fast food. However, kids exert significant influence on spending across virtually all food categories, especially cereals, main meal items and snacks.

Kids' Calories

USDA data show kids in the 90s, on average, consumed more calories than those in the late 70s. Combined with a lack of adequate physical activity, it explains the 250% increase in childhood obesity since Boomer days. Many of these kids also have elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes and other heart-disease risk factors associated with excessive weight.

Snacks contribute about 20% of daily calories for the more than 80% of kids who consume snacks. Soft drink consumption is also up, while milk consumption is down. Consumption of a number of individual nutrients is also inadequate, specifically vitamin E, B6, zinc, calcium, and iron.

Kids decide what they eat in half of their meal occasions. Even in families with traditional family meals, kids are influencing what is inventoried and making personal food choices. The concept of "parallel pantries" is a solution for many families, where parents stock foods each family member likes and can prepare when they want it.

Although 75% of kids eat with their parents on a regular basis, dinner looks different than when Boomers were growing up. The 6 p.m. dinner hour is no longer fixed. Most dinners are prepared between 4 and 7 p.m.; however, dinner can expand to 10 p.m. due to activity-entrenched families and separate eating times.

Indulging in exotic foods from childhood, today's children are savvy, confident and opinionated about what they will eat. Seventy-five percent of kids have friends of different race or ethnic origin. This immersion in a diversity of cultures is especially visible around the acceptance of foods and flavors. For urban teens, these ethnic foods are often authentic versions. From Moo Shu pork and cheeseless pizzas to Indian foods, a wide range of foods are accepted and expected.

At home, dinner rules have been adapted to fit individual family needs and overall flexibility. Kids have become accustomed to individual choice, and it is not unusual for different family members to eat different foods at the same meal. The most popular foods are often the basics that can be easily customized: pasta, baked potatoes, chicken and salads. Parents are willing to oblige the customization requests as they strive for fewer dinnertime battles.

In previous generations, kids asked, "What's for dinner?" Today, children ask, "Are we having dinner?" Although this may make parents feel guilty, Millennials are comfortable with this more casual approach to meals and meal preparation. A flexible-eating schedule finally appears legitimized.

Kids in the Kitchen

Millennials are involved in meal preparation for themselves or the family. Like adults, kids' abilities and desires around cooking are influenced by their attitudes. Forty-two percent of adults say that they enjoy cooking. This percentage may not change significantly when Millennials have their own households; however, what is cooked will be adapted for their interests and experience.

Procuring and preparing food/ meals helps kids feel independent. Kids are capable, confident and creative around food. Even kids who say they don't care about cooking are comfortable in the kitchen preparing convenience-oriented foods. When asked where they learned to cook, many said "on the box." Perhaps Boomers didn't read the directions, but the preparation instructions are a critical element of today's packaging.

Kids mirror the habits of their parents. If family meals are valued, the teen also embraces them. If parents are casual about food preparation and meals and nutrition, this reflects in the kids' attitudes. A parent's sense of adventure regarding food and meals often influences a child's willingness to try new foods. If healthy habits are modeled at home, the kids are more conscious of "eating healthy." But many kids today have no sense of what comprises a balanced meal.

Babes and Brands

Successful products for Millennials will be good-tasting foods with brands that "speak to them." Raised in a brand-conscious world of fashion and games, Millennials will define their "sense of reality" around brands. Big brands will return to youth shopping carts, as Millennials simplify choices.

Above all, taste rules. If Millennials dislike something, they won't eat it. In general, today's youth are used to lots of stimuli, complex flavors, and they have more sophisticated taste buds than their parents when they were children. They also are tougher judges of quality, quicker to reject a mediocre product and move on to another option than their parents were.

Historically, new products needed to solve new problems or old problems in a new way to succeed. While the addition of "cool" attributes may not provide a substantive solution to a problem, creative marketers can capture younger Millennials with "tools for fun." Contrasting and complex yet familiar flavors, wild colors, magic, new forms, shapes and innovative packaging can all influence "pester power." As Millennials mature, they shift from "fun" to "image" or sophisticated brands.

Marketers are combining many of the approaches below into single products to maximize appeal. A number of the products described are not really new but have been designed to fit the needs and attitudes of Millennials.

  • Flavor. Tang attributes a significant sales increase to three new flavors: Fruit Frenzy, Orange Uproar and Berry Panic.
  • Color. Heinz has new "kid" ketchup in green and red varieties in a new, more squeezable, "kid-ergonomic" package. Cheetos Mystery Colorz Snacks is a cheesy, neon orange product that magically turns your tongue either blue or green when eaten.
  • Edgy/Attitude. RC Edge has extra caffeine, is cobalt blue and contains Indian ginseng and taurine, an energy boosting amino acid. Red Bull is a beverage in a unique slender can that boosts energy due to its caffeine content.
  • Magic. Nestle's Wonderball is a never-ending surprise, because each chocolate ball is filled with different candy characters from a favorite Disney movie, plus a prize in the box. You can "make some Jell-O Bean Magic" with the new Jell-O mold.
  • Form. Kraft Polly-O Twisterellas are individually wrapped, twisted strings of tasty cheddar and mozzarella cheeses. Polly-O, the spokes-parrot says it's "an excellent source of calcium!" Yoplait Go-Gurt Portable Yogurt comes in squeezable tubes rather than cups for portability. Flavors include Watermelon Meltdown, Berry Blue Blast and Chill Out Cherry.
  • Image, Sophisticated. Yoplait Expresse is a more "adult" or "sophisticated" version of Go-Gurt. AriZona Green Tea with ginseng and honey comes in single-serve boxes and one-gallon containers. Both products are displayed adjacent to similar Hi C products in the store.
  • Promotion ideas. Bagel Bites' growth over the last two years is credited to tween-oriented ads on WB, MTV and Fox networks featuring world champion skateboarder Tony Hawk and a contest. Kellogg's offers with a secret code in specially marked boxes, which kids use when they log on to They can "trade points for stuff" on the website.

Evolution of Convenience

Convenience foods will further evolve toward "instant" in at least two different directions: portable, individual serving "instant" foods and traditional foods that can be prepared "instantly." These will be important staples in the Millennials' pantries and refrigerators...foods that move seamlessly from package to stomach, such as:
  • Portable, individual serving, "instant" foods. Dry cup foods--soups, rice and beans, hot cereal; shelf stable fluid cup foods--pudding and gelatin desserts; bar foods--energy bars, snack bars, diet bars, cereal and milk bars; Lunchables varieties; stick and cube foods--cheese and meat sticks, cheese cubes; refrigerated cup, bottle and "tube" foods--pudding, yogurt (with edible spoon), drinks; frozen bowls and single-serving plated entrées and meals;
  • Instant, multi-serving foods. These foods permit family meals to be prepared at home "in an instant" by parents or kids. Retortable pouch tuna could easily expand to chicken and other meats in the same package. Hormel is test marketing completely prepared, traditional, family-size meat entrees in the refrigerated meat case, which are prepared in minutes in the microwave. Microwavable, fully prepared side dishes and entrees are in test markets in refrigerated cases in various cities. Complete "meal in a skillet" or "meal in a casserole dish" products are proliferating in the freezer case, targeted for adults, families and kids.

Fountain of Youth

Functional foods that marry nutraceuticals with flavorful, ready-to-eat products will be one of the biggest emerging trends of the next decade and beyond. Millennials have grown up with calcium-fortified orange juice and cereals as "vitamin pills." Nutrient deficiencies are being addressed and touted in an increasing range of foods such as yogurt (Dannon Danimals with vitamin D), bread (kids' bread products with fiber equal to whole wheat bread and other nutrients) and fruit snacks (Nabisco Fun Fruits with Vitamins C and E).

Kids are targeted with both herbal and traditional supplements for specific health issues, such as bone health, ADD and asthma. As they grow older, they will be adept at using products to control their health. Given the horrifying statistics about increasing obesity in children, diet or weight control foods may also present an opportunity.

The popularity of soy foods and their benefits could lead to higher consumption in Millennials' meals, especially since this generation doesn't seem to consume as much meat as their parents.

Finally, there may be a possible counter trend toward more traditional family behavior driven by a variety of factors. Currently, day care spaces are limited due to the poor economics of day care. A nationwide study found kids want time with parents to be less rushed and stressed. Focus groups showed kids want more of a sense of connectedness with parents and more time doing simple things together.

Boomers are reaching the age where they are asking, "Is this all there is?" and redirecting efforts to time at home with family versus work. If an economic downturn materializes, the response from families might be very different from their current hurried, two wage-earner situation.

So, in an age when many product development opportunities are focused on portable, hand-held, convenient and instant technologies, significant opportunities may emerge for a new set of products which fit family or group usage occasions. This generation may not learn the same basic cooking skills as their parents and grandparents (although a portion of them will become excellent cooks). They will, however, have an interest in using food to enhance family time. PF


N. Howe & W. Strauss, Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation, Vintage Books, N.Y., 2000.

C. Cronk & A. Nelson, Gen Y--How Do They Eat? Immersion interviews, 2001, Food & Marketplace Insights, Minneapolis, unpublished.

Leslie Skarra is president of Merlin Development, which provides high-quality, cost-effective research and development services to the food industry. Merlin specializes in all technical aspects of food product development from concept through commercialization, including prototype development, formulation, scale-up, quality system design and production start-up. Prior to founding Merlin Development, Ms. Skarra held various product development and management positions at The Pillsbury Company. She may be contacted at 763-475-0224 or

Carol Cronk and Audrey Nelson are co-founders of Food & Marketplace Insights, which specializes in the identification of innovative product opportunities by combining a creative and technical understanding of food and trends, knowledge of the marketplace and consumer insights. Carol and Audrey each have over 20 years of extensive and varied experience as food and marketing services professionals with significant experience at The Pillsbury Company. They may be contacted at 952-906-1501 and 612-825-6271 or and What has changed:
A market larger than baby boomers;
More demographically and socially diverse;
More choices, variety and information than ever before;
Differing meal/eating behavior that has become accepted and legitimate;
More discerning tastes among kids.

What hasn't changed:
Parents still do the majority of purchasing;
Kids' desire for fun, acceptance and liking new things.