Millennials, as a generation, are rethinking virtually every aspect of the food-buying experience. It is similar to the changes wrought by the Baby Boomers. But, as that mega-demographic enters the next phase of life and spending patterns, Millennials are poised to change—indeed transform—the food-at-home industry.

A recent report from Jefferies and AlixPartners, “Trouble in Aisle 5,” found convenience is front and center to young people. As such, they are much less loyal to both food brands and traditional grocery stores. The report’s survey found 47% of Millennials surveyed regard brands as “extremely” or “somewhat” important compared with 61% of Baby Boomers. For that matter, only 41% of Millennials’ total food spending involves traditional grocers, compared with 50% of Boomers.

“Millennials clearly present significant challenges, and food-makers and traditional grocery retailers need to start making changes now to address the emerging needs of this demographic group, as in many ways, we’re just in the second inning of this ballgame,” said Jefferies’ Scott Mushkin, managing director and senior equity research analyst covering Food & Drug Retailing and Packaged Food.

“The at-home food industry is just beginning to feel the impact of this major demographic shift, as Millennials rise in prominence, and Baby Boomers adjust to meet the requirements of age and a fixed income,” Mushkin continued. “The bottom line for food-at-home industry stalwarts is that big changes are coming, and companies who don’t fully understand those changes risk being marginalized.”

Back to School

Schools nationwide are exploring various initiatives to encourage children to become more active and eat more healthfully. The moves are undoubtedly a consequence of alarming childhood obesity statistics: Roughly 20% of 6-19- year-olds were obese in 2008, compared to less than 10% in 1980, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The “Nestle Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study” (FITS), released last October, is hardly more encouraging: 10% of young children between 2-5 were categorized as obese. It further found that, as early as 12-24 months, children have begun to “develop some unhealthy dietary patterns that may contribute to childhood obesity,” falling short of USDA MyPlate and Dietary Guidelines for Children. New federal rules are aiming to curb those troubling signs.

School meals must now include more whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, as well as maintain age-appropriate calorie limitations. Students will have to choose at least one portion of fruits or vegetables, and fewer sugary drinks will be available on campus. The latter effort has been an ongoing project for some time. Only one third of students in U.S. elementary schools had access to sugary drinks and high-fat milk in the 2010-2011 school year vs. 47% in 2007-2008, according to a report by the University of Illinois at Chicago. Less than 12% could obtain any sugar-sweetened beverages at school in 2011-2012.

Tracey Halliday, spokesperson for the American Beverage Association, explains the report demonstrates the effectiveness of voluntary industry guidelines.

“In early 2010, our industry announced it had successfully implemented voluntary national School Beverage Guidelines, reducing beverage calories shipped to schools by a dramatic 88% since 2004,” says Halliday. In elementary schools, the guidelines “removed full-calorie soft drinks and allow for only bottled water, low-fat milk and 100% juice in 8oz containers,” she adds.

Jamba Juice Co. has added a new fruit-and-dairy beverage for K-12 schools. Developed with guidance from the National Dairy Council, the smoothie is naturally sweetened with fruit and fruit juice and promises “the nutrient-rich benefits of fat-free milk with real fruit.”

“This is an important step in the right direction. This project moves us closer towards the goal of providing schools with nutritious food and beverage solutions at a reasonable cost per-serving,” explains Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD, a nutrition and food author, and member of the Jamba Healthy Living Council. “[The smoothie] is made with nutrient-rich real fruit and fat-free milk that not only tastes great, but also helps address the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and can be offered as an a la carte item at school meals.”

The new Jamba beverage is available in two flavors: Berry Fruit Smoothie, with one serving of fruit and one half serving of fat-free dairy per 8oz, formulated to be a good source of protein, potassium and phosphorous and an excellent source of calcium and vitamin C; and Peach Fruit Smoothie, a blend of fat-free dairy and fruit juices and peach pieces, promising the same serving amounts of fruit and dairy. The latter is a good source of vitamin C, as well as an excellent source of riboflavin (vitamin B2) and calcium.

Calcium also is a selling point for another product aimed at children—or, at least, their parents—but it is far from a beverage. Wonder Bread’s Smartwhite for Kids promises the same amount of calcium as an 8oz glass of milk, as well as the same amount of fiber as 100% whole-wheat bread, plus nine essential vitamins and minerals—all with 50 calories per slice and 25% less sodium than regular white bread.

The Right Start

Cereals may be something of a breakfast staple, but they have been at the center of controversy when it comes to children’s health.

“[The cereals marketed to children] are basically dessert products and not a good way to start the day,” contends Jennifer Harris, lead author of a recent report on the nutritional quality and marketing of children’s cereals.

Harris and her team at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity compared recent trends and found that, of 22 child-targeted cereals available in 2008 and 2011, five increased fiber, 10 reduced the sodium, and seven reduced the sugar. Despite improving “a little bit,” the majority of cereal ads seen by children on television promote products that consist of one third or more sugar per spoonful, says Harris.

Meanwhile, media spending in the U.S. to promote child-targeted cereals totaled $264 million in 2011, an increase of 34% compared to 2008. The cereals advertised to children were found to contain 56% more sugar, 52% less fiber and 50% more sodium compared to cereal marketed to adults, the report notes.

The report also says that the Kellogg Company appears to be targeting Krave, launched in the U.S. earlier this year, to tweens. Children aged 6-11 saw more TV advertisements for Krave during the first quarter of 2012 than individuals in any other age group—11.2 ads compared to 10.6 for teens (ages 12-17) and 4.9 for adults (ages 18-49), the report says.

In a related statement, Kellogg notes, “We know that our consumers are looking for nutrient-dense foods that also taste good. If the taste of a food is unacceptable, it will not be eaten, and if a food is not eaten, it cannot make a nutritional contribution to the diet. Krave is a delicious cereal made with 8g of whole grain; is a source of fiber that has only 170 calories per serving with a 1/2 cup of 1% milk; and is a source of seven essential vitamins and minerals in every bowl.”

Up, Up and Away

Encouraging children to eat healthy may seem like it would require superhuman powers, but one study published in the journal Pediatric Obesity has found superheroes alone could help. Brian Wansink, professor of marketing and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, finds Spider-Man and Batman can help children make healthy choices.

“Fast-food patronage is a frequent reality for many children and their parents. Simply instructing a parent to order healthier food for a child is neither empowering for a child nor easy for a parent,” said Wansink, the study’s co-author.

“Advising parents to ask their child, ‘What would Batman eat?’ might be a realistic step to take in what could be a healthier fast-food world,” Wansink added. His study involved 22 children, aged 6-12, at a summer camp where the kids were asked if they wanted apple fries or French fries during several consecutive Wednesday lunches.

During one of those lunches, the children were first presented with 12 photos of real and fictional role models and asked, “Would this person order apple fries or French fries?” As many as 45% of the children selected apple fries after being shown pictures of superheroes and other role models, compared to the 9% who chose apple fries with no superhero prompts.

Elsewhere, Pinnacle Foods Group is turning to young entertainers to tout its Birds Eye vegetables for kids. Pinnacle is working with television’s Nickelodeon to sponsor an “iCarly iCook with Birds Eye” effort at It allows parents and children to create a vegetable dish that could be featured on an episode of Nickelodeon’s iCarly.

Pinnacle notes that approximately nine in 10 children and adolescents in the U.S. fail to consume the recommended amount of vegetables per day, and Birds Eye has made a three-year pledge with the Partnership for a Healthier America, which will include marketing and advertising vegetables directly to young people “in their voice and bringing to market kid-inspired products.”

Inn the Know

Such kid-influenced inspiration has been at the heart of menu development in, of all places, a number of hotel chains. Hyatt Hotels and Resorts has introduced a new children’s menu at all its full-service properties in North America, and the selections certainly echo parental concerns about healthy foods vs. junk foods. Nevertheless, Hyatt notes it is “not the typical children’s menu. As the name suggests, it is ‘For Kids by Kids.’”

Hyatt says the menu redux reflects collaboration with nearly a dozen children ages 5-12, who tried a variety of test items. The move is part of a growing trend in hotels: appealing to children to gain their parents’ business.

“You’re attracting the kids, so the kids can tell their friends; and they plug the parents, and the parents foot the bill,” says Jan Freitag, a senior vice president at hotel industry tracker STR.

At Hyatt Hotels, that means a menu of low-fat, low-calorie and low-sodium options, plus free refills on low-fat milk, as well as natural beef and sustainable fish. French fries have been replaced with fruits and vegetables as default sides, and the hotel has developed healthy takes on child-friendly favorites, such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Furthermore, young diners can even take part in preparing their meal with the “build-your-own taco” option.

Diners are even able to order from a three-course menu designed by celebrity chef Alice Waters. Her Hyatt creation incorporates a vegetable starter, a chicken entrée and fruit dessert.

Fairmont Hotels is following a similar approach, developing a children’s menu that swaps refined flour for whole wheat; adds more fruits and vegetables; and utilizes healthier cooking methods. Fairmont’s new menu is not quite as revolutionary as Hyatt’s attempts. Instead, it opts to present chicken fingers made from organic poultry and served with vegetables instead of French fries; its pizza promises toppings with less fat and that are less processed; and the beverage options have grown to include spring water, unsweetened juices, smoothies and shakes.

Even The Walt Disney Company has announced it will limit junk food advertisements on programs that target child audiences 12 and under. It reflects a growing awareness among large corporations. In fact, a large prevention initiative by the National Restaurant Association, in partnership with, has encouraged restaurants nationwide to develop and post kids’ menu items that meet healthy nutritional requirements. The program, Kids LiveWell, demands foods must be 600 calories or less, with no more than 35% of those calories from fats.

The efforts echo a sentiment from the Jefferies report: Millennials are seeking, and will in fact pay more, for freshness, health, variety and natural/organic. Some 56% of Millennials say they are willing to pay more for natural/organic products, alone. pf