Cracking the Gen Y culinary code

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 5th November 2008

Gen Y dining

Generation Y (those born between 1976 and 1990) is the largest, most culturally diverse demographic group in history. Until now, their food and beverage preferences were largely unknown. New American research from the Center for Culinary Development (CCD), a leading food and beverage product development company, discovers the culinary preferences of this powerful market.

The power of Gen Y lies in its numbers. Generation Y, renowned for being savvy consumers that dine out more than any generation before them, is comprised of roughly 75 million Americans (in Australia, the number is closer to 4 million).

“It’s time we pay attention to what and how this large and lucrative group wants to eat,” said Kimberly Egan, chief executive officer of the Center for Culinary Development. “For businesses to thrive, it’s imperative to understand how to satisfy the cravings of this market-changing population.”

What Does Gen Y Crave?

As the offspring of Baby Boomers, they’ve grown up on ethnic foods, and have palates accustomed to diverse flavours. This penchant for exotic, multi-faceted flavours is reinforced by their cultural diversity. They are adventurous, are eager to try new things and want intense, complex, layers of flavour in their food, according to the research. It was found that 51% often eat ethnic foods compared to 20% who rarely ate ethnic food.

What they eat is largely influenced by their mood, energy and the opinions of those they care about most – their peers and their parents. Whether dining in or out, food isn’t just about sustenance; it is a full sensory experience – appearance, aroma, texture, and sound make a big impact on satisfaction. It often is linked to socialising – 63% enjoy eating while socialising, compared to 15% who don’t. They are indulgence-driven and take great pleasure in having their cravings completely sated. It is also important to be able to customise a dish to suit their individual desires.

The increasingly hectic lifestyles of Gen Yers and a lack of cooking skills require their foods to be easy, yet they increasingly seek healthy ingredients.

“Fun” foods are also of great interest, as long as they are not juvenile. In the case of Gen Y fun foods may encompass: participation, customisation, visual interest (shape/packaging), innovative breakthrough (e.g. changing the way something is eaten) and food

“We had a lot of ‘aha’ moments as we reviewed our research findings,” Ms Egan reported. “The multi-tiered, customised methodologies yielded rich insights that every level of the food industry can use to satisfy the tastes particular to Millennials (Gen Y).”

Impact for Food Manufacturers and Food Service

When it comes to food and drink, Gen Yers know what they like and are willing to spend liberally to get it. CCD suggests focusing on bold, exotic flavors and fresh, flavourful twists on familiar favorites that satisfy all the senses will ensure products and menus that satisfy this demanding audience. And, because Gen Y’s are very social, creating an environment that caters to their sense of community is a secret for success.