This year at South by Southwest (SXSW) 2017, the Symrise team attended a panel titled #FoodPorn or Bust: The Socialization of Food. One of the speakers on the Panel was Millennial Food expert Eve Turow Paul. Eve is a journalist and advisor who studies the wants and needs of young people around the world. She investigates the latest research in psychology, sociology, anthropology, speaks to thought-leaders and interviews people of the Millennial and Gen Z generations to gain a better understanding of their anxieties, hopes and passions. She then looks at how individuals soothe themselves and fulfill many of their needs through food culture, where young people overwhelmingly spend their discretionary incomes. Eve is also the author of Generation Yum.
Symrise was able to catch up with Eve after SXSW to dive a little deeper into what makes millennials and Gen Z tick when it comes to food and beverage. Check out our interview below:
Symrise: In your book, you mentioned that Millennials are obsessed with food. Can you give us some examples? And do you think Gen Z will have the same obsessions? And if not how would it be different?
Eve Turow Paul: Here are some key snippets: 87% of Millennials say they’ll splurge on a meal even when money is tight. Globally, 6-in-10 Millennials go out to eat at least once a week, twice the percentage of Baby Boomers. For the first time ever, teens are spending more on food than clothing. Gen Z is absolutely going to have the same obsession, if not more so. They are most open minded about global foods and flavors and have a better understanding of the connection between food, farming and the environment. Generation Zers consider cooking part of their identity. Food also rates as one of Gen Z's top obsessions, ranking higher that either music or sports. Children now invite friends to cooking birthday parties and spend summer weeks at kid-only cooking camps.
Symrise: Food porn and Millennials - It is about sharing? What is your point of view about this? Would you have the same answer when it comes to Gen Z?
ETP: Food porn is about a few things:
- Sensory stimulation. People want to stimulate their senses. Looking at pictures of food or reading words associated with food stimulates your olfactory or gustatory cortexes. In an age of screens, that kind of stimulation is important.
- It's about showing off and gloating.
- It's about personal branding. Any picture you post to your "wall" says something about you -- even pictures of food. It can say you're educated, wealthy, sophisticated, adventurous, silly.
I believe that Gen Z is figuring out social media. Some kids I talk to think social media is destructive, for others, their lives are driven by finding ideal photo opportunities. It will be interesting to see what their behavior is like in regard to social media in about 10 years’ time.
Symrise: Do you think All-Natural and Organic are fads or it is to stay for a long time?
ETP: Organic and all-natural is here to stay. Now, the terms "organic" and "all-natural" will likely change. Most people don't know that "Organic" still means that certain pesticides can be used and "natural" has no official definition. But an interest in real, safe, simple food is not going anywhere. People want to be living healthy lives, they want control over their foods and they're excited about food.
Symrise: What does all this food obsession mean for the future of eating?
ETP: It likely means we will be eating even more interesting foods in the future -- bold flavors, colors, scents -- created by amazing culinary artists. It also means that farmers will eventually be the new heroes, as folks begin to understand that the flavor of produce begins with the soil it's grown in.
Symrise: Do you think millennials will continue to change the food industry into the future as they age? Will Gen Z be the same? Different? How?
ETP: I think that millennials will continue to push the food industry into a more transparent culture. With the uprising of so many food startups, Millennials have other options now. If they don't like what the big companies are selling, they can find something they do like from another brand. This is pushing big food to make changes in sourcing, ingredients and sustainability, and ultimately, that's what's going to have the biggest impacts on human health and environmental health.
Symrise: Are there specific examples of restaurants and/or products that have done a great job at connecting with millennials?
ETP: I think the Honest Company has done a fantastic job of serving the Millennial parent. Their branding is spot on, with a great story and transparency. Sweetgreen has created a strong brand story and sense of trust. There are so many others as well! RxBars, Bai, MatchaBar, Stumptown, Blue Bottle...
Symrise: Which cuisines/flavors do you think will be the next big hit with millennial consumers?
ETP: Anything bold and funky. Fermented flavors are in along with lots of spices.
Symrise: How can packaged food manufacturers connect better with millennial consumers? In sweet, beverage and snacks/culinary?
ETP: This is a complex question. First and foremost, food companies need to deliver products that people genuinely want, not stuff that they're just addicted to or that are simply cost-effective and convenient. Then, they need to source ingredients responsibly and tell people how they're doing it. They need to create a value system around each and every brand. We're past the era of WonderBread and Spaghetti-Os. People want real food -- whether that's sweet or savory. Big Food needs to make it clear that they're reinvesting in the health of their consumers.
Symrise: What are the top 2-3 attributes you would advise food manufacturers to include in their offerings to millennials?
ETP: It really depends on the product, but transparency, simplicity and honesty are three attributes you can't go wrong with.
Symrise: How different are Millennials from Gen-X when it comes to food & beverage preferences, main drivers for consumption and flavor exploration?
ETP: Millennials are more open to complex, foreign flavors. Millennials are also greater drivers around sustainability and organic. They see the world in a more globally connected perspective, driving an interest in flavors from around the world and driving the desire for a safe environment. They're the first generation to grow up with the Internet. Today, we're seeing the effects of this global portal.
Symrise: What are the most noteworthy similarities and differences between Millennials and Gen Z's and their relationships with food, touching on both eating out and also packaged goods?
ETP: Skepticism. The skepticism that Gen Zers have for any kind of corporation or institution is shocking, even to me. It's like the Millennial pessimism but even more forceful, because Gen Zers really believe they can do something about it. They've grown up in the age of Kickstarter and Indiegogo. They really feel like they have the power to create change. And they're only going to buy products they feel boost their personal brands. Tribes are new. Gen Z moves in packs in a way my generation, the Millennials, never did. I have yet to break down how that's effecting eating out, but it certainly drives eating "performance" online in a greater way than it has with Millennials.
Symrise: In what ways do you see technology affecting the food and beverage industry down the road?
ETP: Again, this is a huge question. My mind immediately goes to the impending changes caused by nutrition scanners and microbiome trackers. These innovations will upend the way we understand human health, plant health and will likely cause a massive disruption of the food distribution system.
Symrise: Being a millennial yourself, in what ways would you like to see the food industry progressing, specifically touching on packaged food manufacturers?
ETP: I'd like to see food manufacturers turn their attention to farming. The way we currently eat today is based on farmers growing a ridiculous amount of mono or di culture soy and corn. This is ruining soil and encouraging companies to raze forests to make room. Yet it's entirely unnecessary! It's bad for human health and environmental health. Instead, we should be creating foods that utilizing rotational crops, which are biodiverse or come from permaculture farms. Why can't a brand change with the seasons? It would certainly make going to the grocery store more interesting.