It’s a question that predates “ Wait –Is that a snake?”; “ What’s for dinner” has been the scourge of moms and heads-of-households since the dawn of the time. In fact, right now, some super cute Capuchin is probably hovering over a plate of spiders wondering what the hell to make tonight… However, for us hopelessly evolved human primates, what once was a clarion call to rummage through freezer-burnt chicken nuggets and hopelessly mushy broccoli spears, this question is now a visceral summons that whets all sorts of appetites, and poses all sorts of questions about who we are, and what we really care about. Yup, its about to get heavy, people.
Because, of course, meal planning, or lack there-of, is yet another hall mark of those every creative, ever under-entertained cohort, the Millennial. Food gathering, food preparation and food sharing are all not simply extensions of the drudgery-filled second shift… but rather outlets of entertainment, education and adventure. From ethnic to exotic to nostalgic, food no longer means consumption, but rather self-expression, of who we are and what we wish to say about how we view the world, and by extension, ourselves. Raised in an era where the pursuit of experience trumps all, deciding what to eat has become a game everyone wants to play…..and where everybody wins – except, perhaps, the traditional supermarket.
FOMO has given birth to the anytime-anywhere-anything-you could possibly dream up-food culture of today. From UberIceCream, to meals-in-a-box services such as Blue Apron, Plated, and Hello Fresh, to Drizly and Saucey serving up cocktails to your door, who needs to plan ahead? And, frankly, how embarrassing to do so??! As Ellie Goulding promises, “Anything Could Happen”…so why would you align yourself with ingredients that might lead to, well, simply, Tuesday Taco Night? This is a generation on the move, the proverbial ‘Living light’ cohort, refusing to be weighed down by cars, dishwashers, homes or marriage. Instead, they prefer to move lithely (and poetically, blithely?) through the urban jungle of opportunity and tastes, and simply respond to the most potent whim of the group. The experiences they seek? A Food crawl through Grand Central Market, a night out at LA’s Night Market, a tour of authentic Chinese in Queens, or a date rummaging through Pike’s Market for an ultimate cook-off, or perhaps a last minute meal at an underground, invite-only supper club…. meals are a chance to create memories, experiences, and at the very least, excellent Instagram posts. The online food explosion eggs us on to new feats of taste , and when we weary of the chase, a box of Mac ‘n Cheese can be seen as ironic and sweetly ‘Throwback’ in nature. Simply put, food has become one more flag to fly in the game of true colors.
So, what is the future of food? Millennials are looking to prepare food – it’s not all about Chipotle after all, but if they are going to cook, it needs to mean something. Either they are tapping into nostalgia… by making Ramen or Fruit Loops, hankering for authenticity by tracking down artisanal ingredients, or hoping to learn a new skill (hello, Dream Dinners) food must come with a +…. Its not simply a raw ingredient for a meal, its an element for an experience, an opportunity to make a statement about values, proclivities, or at the very least, allergies. If, by definition, every eating occasion is an opportunity for adventure, then those that preplan, and stuff a freezer full of frozen food, are by definition, sitting out the game of life…no? So then, given these stakes, how do those in food markets compete? By not loading up on ingredients alone, but by providing unique food opportunities.
Cartologists, by definition, are mapmakers, not Prozac-addled housewives leadenly moving through Mazak-filled icy aisles, tossing shredded wheat into a moving metal cage. They are opportunists, springing upon the moment to create, captivate, seduce and socialize every sensory experience. Those food purveyors who can tap into the quick step dance of nostalgia, opportunity, education and entertainment that exists on the tip of every fork, knife, package and can, will win the day. Food is a multi-dimensional story of love, history, seduction and play… provide the props and the stage, and watch the consumer shine!
Our opinions enhanced here in a recent interview with Food Navigator-USA and Hartman Group: Millennials and food shopping: Are you up to speed?