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Most Millennials are Vegetarians...Kind Of

Jan 10, 2017
Bob O’Brien, Global Senior Vice President ;
Foodservice

I love reading things about the tastes of Millenials. For instance, I recently read that restaurants supposedly can really go a long way with them by offering vegetarian fare. I've been using CREST® global consumer foodservice tracking data to look into the foodservice tastes of generations just to see how different they are.  I was inspired by hearing someone at a conference talk about how the new Generation Alpha (of which the oldest are 6) are and will be completely different (they're not). At that same conference someone said that the "global Millennials" were completely different from everyone else.

So as long as I had the data organized, I thought I'd see what it said about Millennials. 

But before I looked at real data, I consulted my Millennial focus group about the vegetarian thing. One of the ten is a pescetarian who longs to be vegan but likes pudding too much (kidding, that was when she was much younger). Another is "sort of" vegetarian who doesn't bat an eye at chicken Parmesan or sausage pizza. Another will bat an eye at those things but will eat them to be polite if that's what's being served. The rest eat meat unapologetically. So, that's (generously) three out of ten. I think the folks on research science row would allow me to say that it's about a third.  For the record, my imaginary better self is also vegetarian but since he's imaginary we can't count him in the stats. 

This gives credence to the claim in the opening paragraph. My Millennial focus group has a higher incidence of vegetarian leanings than you'll find in most groups of people. NPD's National Eating Trends®, which continually tracks all aspects of consumption, reports that the incidence of flexible vegetarians or “flexitarians” are 8 percent of the population with actual vegetarians at 1 percent and vegans at half that. So there is an unusual prevalence; but (and again research science row backs me up here) that's not close to a majority.

Off the top of my head the biggest, broadest offering of a "veggie" thing is Sofritas at Chipotle. So I did a quick survey of my personal Millennials and found that one didn't know what it was (so much for a halo), one described himself as "intrigued" but had never tried it, one actually uses it as a kind of relish on top of the meat, one tried it and went back to the chicken.  The most committed vegetarians pretty much always get it. I like the guy who uses it to express his vegetarian sympathies. We'll call that 25 percent incidence. 

Again you can see why veggie offerings have value to a restaurant.  But none of that is actually data. That's really just me talking to some people.

And we're now coming around to the point.  OK...so I took a look at our CREST® ongoing foodservice research data from the U.S., Great Britain (which the Continental Europeans all say is just like the U.S....HA!), Italy, China and Japan. I broke out the global Millennials and looked to see what foods and drinks they consume the most.

U.S. Italy Japan Great Britain China
Regular CSDs Water Still Meat Dish Regular Cola Chinese Stir Fired
French Fries Espresso Japanese Tea Chips/Fries Plain Rice
Pizza Croissant Farcito Noodle, Pasta Beef Burger Burger
Breakfast Sandwiches Pasta Semola Coffee Diet/Low Calorie Cola Soup
Tea-Iced Cola Regular Veg Dish Bacon Chinese Stew
Lg Cheeseburger Pizza Lunch Box Pizza Cola - Regular
Bottled Water/Seltzer Panini Sushi Plain Still Bottled Water Soy Milk

Source: The NPD Group/CREST®, year ending September 2016

While you could pick the lists apart and point out opportunities for vegetarian options (pineapple jalapeño pizza, for instance), they all look pretty much like everyone else in their respective countries.  The Italian list looks very Italian to me (that's a stuffed croissant in the list).  And the Japanese list looks very Japanese.  They don't seem very "global millennial." The Chinese list, with burger and cola, is the most striking in its difference from the population. The soy milk in the list is not the soy milk we find in the Americas and Europe. It might more accurately be called "liquid tofu" and is the dominant breakfast beverage. And anyone can see that the British and the Americans are completely different. OK not really. They're disturbingly similar. The thing that looks very millennial to me (though not vegetarian) in the U.S. is the breakfast sandwiches; the seeds of all-day breakfast. The bacon in the British list may be a deconstructed bacon bap sandwich. 

My Millennial focus group would likely come close to the U.S list if you replace cheeseburgers with burritos.  

Now, we could "index" (it's a verb, not a noun) these and see which tiny things are more likely than average to be consumed by global Millennials. Alcohol would be prominent in a couple of countries.  Just for fun, I'll tell you that bruschetta has the highest index for Millennials in the U.S.

Years ago there was a speaker on the U.S. foodservice conference circuit who spoke about his experiences at Burger King and the objections from their customers when Burger King removed salad bars that nobody ever used. He'd say that "people talk thin and eat fat." Customers liked to come in and see the salad bar before they ordered their Whoppers. So headlining a menu with a dish made of roasted cauliflower topped with spicy tomato sauce, almonds, and avocados is not an illogical thing. My imaginary better self is always ordering things like that while I'm pondering whether to get a full or half slab of ribs. Maybe just don't prep so much of it.

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