How Millennials Shop for Food Differently

Not only do millennials have sex and think differently than prior generations, but a new study finds that they also shop and eat differently. The report, entitled “Food Shopping in America,” by MSLGROUP and The Hartman Group, observed how millennials purchase food based on their distinctive consumption patterns, constraints on budget and spontaneity. This is having a profound effect on the grocery landscape.

“Millennials are more spontaneous and adventurous than previous generations in their interactions with food and beverage,” states Laurie Demeritt, CEO of The Hartman Group. “Millennials’ strong ties to technology and new ways of engaging with food and beverage occasions make this generation’s shopping and dining habits worth watching, not just for clues about what young adults want but for ways that millennials are influencing changes across generations.”

The study found that 63 percent of millennials shop at mass superstores versus 69 percent at mainstream groceries. That’s less than a 10 percent difference, but it’s clear that younger generations are more attracted to the convenience of megastores. Millennials are also more likely than quondam generations to shop at two or more stores in a single visit to purchase all their groceries.

Cost Trumps All

The median household income for millennials – $37,000 –  is vastly below that of previous generations like Gen X ($62,500) or baby boomers ($72,500). 49 percent  of millennials said budget limitations were the most important factor when it comes to shopping—which is why places like Trader Joe’s and Aldi are so popular with them.

Millennials Shop With Their Smartphones

Millennials are by far the most tech savvy generation, with 70 percent using smartphones while shopping. Tasks such as checking a shopping list kept online or on their device, contacting another family member, searching for coupons and finding a recipe are all examples of how they use technology to help with consumption. Millennials are experts at finding the best deals.

Social Media is Key

Personal recommendations influence millennial spending habits almost as much as price. This is where social media plays a huge role. Millennials are more likely to be swayed by Yelp reviews or a Facebook post about food or shopping than any other group.

Contradicting Items in Their Carts

Millennials have the stereotype of being both impatient and health-conscious, so it’s no surprise that they tend to buy a mix of premade food items—like frozen pizza—and organic produce. This begs the question: Is it even possible to have both a gluten allergy and a love for Hot Pockets? For millennials, those things aren’t mutually exclusive.    

“Brands must adapt to connect directly with the millennial shopper,” says Steve Bryant, MSLGROUP Director of Food and Beverage Marketing. “Millennials value companies that are authentic and transparent, and are more willing to connect with companies that try to address their needs. Marketing efforts should focus on carefully tailored, personalized communications, with a focus on both convenience and affordability.”

For the marketing industry, millennials are potential goldmines when it comes to advertising because of their social media habits and reliance on technology. At the same time, millennials also exhibit paradoxical behavior that is confusing to many—including millennials themselves. So when it comes to food shopping, millennials have a complex carte blanche approach of which the food industry needs to be aware.


Are you a millennial? What is your approach to grocery shopping?

Additional images: Flickr / Denish C.






Zara Zhi
Zara Zhi
Zara is a freelance writer and filmmaker who has worked for numerous magazines and news sites. When not coming up with puns or writing screenplays, she enjoys having blind children read to her and donating plasma TVs. Follow her on Twitter: @zarazhi