Generation, Life Stage, or Both: What’s Behind the Shifts?

The behaviors of the Millennial generation have been highly analyzed and studied, so it shouldn’t be surprising to hear this group prefers fresh foods and beverages and favors healthy snack food choices. The unanswered question until now has been whether these behaviors are attributable to life stage or if they are generational shifts that will carry through the rest of their lives.

Americans have been told for the last 30 years they should consume more vegetables, with little movement from consumers on that initiative. Marketers have attempted to make vegetables more enticing with dips and other additions, but increasing vegetable consumption has been an elusive goal. What’s shifting is where people source vegetables in the grocery store. Our National Eating Trends® data shows nearly half of the vegetables eaten in the 1980s came from the fresh aisle of the store; that has grown to about 60 percent more recently. It’s apparently a zero-sum shift as consumers move away from frozen and canned forms of vegetables in favor of fresh – while keeping their total vegetable consumption levels steady.

We’ve observed that Millennials are a big reason why fresh consumption has been increasing overall, but can we attribute that increase to where they are in their lives? Our new report, A Generational Study: The Evolution of Eating, says Millennials’ shifts reflect a fundamental change in the way they prioritize fresh foods, emphasizing fresh over other forms. When looking at fresh consumption among individuals under the age of 40, it’s happening in greater numbers than it did among their predecessors 10 years ago. We see the opposite dynamic for those older than 40.

Millennials’ consumption of more fresh foods isn’t the whole explanation for their increased usage. Another key dynamic for fresh foods is that people tend to consume more of them as they age. We should expect this to continue for Millennials as well, who are already consuming more fresh foods than those at the equivalent life stage 10 years ago, but Boomers have hit a life stage when people typically consume the most fresh items in their lives. Despite the fact that Boomers aren’t consuming fresh foods in the same quantities as previous generations did at their age, the sheer size of their group is large enough to continue driving fresh consumption higher.

NPD Group Chart | Sales | Trends | Global Market Insights

Source: The NPD Group/National Eating Trends® (NET®), Years Ending February

*Fresh food defined as fresh fruit, vegetables, refrigerated meats, poultry, fish, and eggs
End dish and additive/ingredient uses

Changing snack food consumption is another hot topic, but the drivers of change differ from what’s driving growth in fresh foods and beverages. Looking at snack foods consumed during snack occasions, Millennials do not appear to be outliers. The changes we’re observing there are mostly attributable to overall increases with each generation as well as the natural tendency to snack more often with age. 

To learn more about generational versus life stage shifts in consumption contact


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