Not all Millennials are the same, and other generation-based myths busted by CRA-backed study

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Corn Refiners Association
Source: Corn Refiners Association

Related tags Social media Nutrition

Young adults move through several distinctly varied life stages from the ages of 18 to 34 years – high school graduation, moving out on their own, going to college, finding a first job, falling in love and starting a family – and yet most marketers treat Millennials in this age bracket as all the same: penny-pinching hipsters who are glued to their smart phones, not brand loyal and constantly seeking new adventures. 

Given how much can change in 20 years, new research from the Corn Refiners Association that found not all Millennials are the same should come as no surprise. What might be surprising, however, is how by shining a light on the differences within this generation, the report busts several ongoing myths that limit the effectiveness of advertising and outreach to a highly sought after consumer group with significant spending power.

“Millennials are not a monolith. They are a diverse group of consumers with varying attitudes and actions when it comes to food, health and social media,”​ according to the consumer study Generation Why: Decoding Millennial Food Attitudes & Actions​, published this spring by Corn Naturally.

The study, conducted by Ipsos and Buzzfeed, found not only are Millennials not homogeneous, but they can be broken into two distinct sub-generations by age and four diverse segments based on their values and behavior.

Four subgroups break the Millennial mold

The largest subgroup of Millennials also is the one that breaks the most stereotypes of the generation. Coined “Traditionalist Taylor,”​ this group of Millennials make up 37% of the generation and are more likely to be labeled “basic”​ than “hipster,”​ according to the report. Typically female, suburban and white this group is not a very adventurous eater and is least likely to identify as a “foodie,”​ preferring to eat at home and not overly focused on organic or “clean label”​ foods.

The second largest group, making up 28% of Millennials, is the “Bon Vivant Brittany”​ sub-segment, which also breaks free of several Millennial stereotypes. Contrary to popular belief that Millennials center their lives around social media, the predominately young, nonwhite, urban consumer in this group doesn’t spend much time on social media. She also isn’t fixated on clean ingredients and healthy eating – preferring instead to eat what tastes good and trying new restaurants.

The third group, “Food Purist Paige,”​ likely fulfills several of the stereotypes associated with Millennials when it comes to food preferences, but most often consumers in this group do not have the financial means to support their high standards. The mostly white, married, suburban mothers who make up this group are heavily focused on finding clean, healthy foods but because their household income comes in under $50,000 annually, many of these women turn to social media to take advantage of perks and deals that will help them attain the products they want. That said, the report notes, this group is not heavily influenced by social media.

The final and smallest group, accounting for 16 percent of millennial consumers, is dubbed “Balance-Seeker Brad”​ in the report. This group is mainly male, nonwhite, urban and married. Like Purist Paige, the members of this group care about health, but unlike Purist Paige they are more willing to let go of clean labels – preferring a healthy balance that allows room for favorite foods next to healthier options.

This last group is notable because its members spend the most time on social media – almost 30 hours per week – and has substantial influence over other consumers, the report adds.

A closer look across all four sub-sections debunks several other myths about Millennials, which if left unchecked could hamper marketers efforts. These myths include:

1. All Millennials are glued to their phones​. The majority of Millennials, including Traditionalist Taylor, Bon Vivant Brittany and Food Purist Paige, spend less than 20 hours on social media a week. Only Balance-Seeker Brad spends significantly more time on social media, reaching on average 29.8 hours per week

2. All Millennials share everything on social media​. The quality of time spent on social media also matters to marketers. And Traditionalist Taylor and Bon Vivant Brittany are the least likely to post about food or beverages and the least likely to connect with brands via social media or use food-related apps. This means targeting them on social media or attempting to turn them into brand ambassadors likely is a non-starter, according to the report.

3. All millennials are influenced by social media.​ Food Purist Paige and Balance-Seeker Brad are more engaged with brands on social media, but how much they are influenced by what their connections post differs. Only 8% of Paige’s group agrees that a friend’s post about a brand influences their use of it, compared to 38% of Brad’s segment. Likewise, only 10% of Paige’s group is influenced about the health of an ingredient or product based on social media compared to 38% of Brad’s group.  As this suggests, of all the groups, Brad’s segment is most influential on social media and marketers could benefit by engaging with this group given that 69% regularly share experiences online about brands and products and food and beverage typically are a topic of choice.

Age matters

Millennials’ age also influences their approach to food and nutrition, according to the study.

Specifically, it found older Millennials (26- to 34-years-old) are more likely to read nutrition labels and be “health conscious” ​when dining out, compared to younger Millennials, Generation X and Baby Boomers.

About 54% of older Millennials regularly read nutrition information, compared to only 41% of younger Millennials and 48% of Generation X, according to the study. Likewise, 25% of older Millennials strongly agree that they are likely to research nutritional information before dining out, compared to 19% of younger Millennials and 12% of Generation X.

Likewise, all Millennials are more likely to worry about artificial ingredients and sweeteners than older generations, the study found.

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