Millennials' Food Values

I've given a couple presentations recently on food trends, and in each instance I was asked whether the so-called Millennial generation thinks differently about food issues than older generations.  I haven't spent a lot of time delving into this question because a lot of the willingness-to-pay research I've been involved with over the years suggests demographics don't tend to explain a lot of the variation in willingness-to-pay.

But, given the interest in the subject, I thought I'd take a quick look at some of the data from the monthly Food Demand Survey (FooDS) I've been running for over three years now.  In particular, I pulled the data we ask on so-called "food values."  The question shows respondents 12 issues (randomly ordered across surveys) and asks respondents which are most and least important when buying food.   Respondents have to click with their mouse and drag four (and only four) items in the “most important” box and then do the same for the “least important” box. 

A scale of importance is created by calculating the proportion of times (across the entire
sample) a food value appeared in the most important box minus the proportion of times it
appeared in the least important box. Thus, the range of possible values for a food value is from -1 to +1, where a higher number implies more importance (a +1 would mean the particular food value was placed in the most important box by 100% of respondents). This is a zero-sum scale, and it only reveals relative importance (e.g., how importance taste is compared to price) not overall importance.   

Ok, so here's a graphical illustration of the food values by age group (I've pulled the data over time, so each age group has several thousand observations, yielding margins of error of around +/- 0.025 importance points).

Except for the oldest group, there is agreement in ranking at the top: Taste>Safety>Price.  In the middle-range of importance, there is far less agreement.  Both the 18-24 year old group and the 25-34 year old group could be considered Millennials according to most definitions I've seen.  The Millennials place less relative importance on nutrition than the 55 and older crowd.  However, the top four issues (taste, safety, price, and nutrition) are way more important than the other issues regardless of the generation under consideration.

The Millennials place less importance on appearance but more relative importance on naturalness, animal welfare, convenience and environment than do older generations, particularly the 65 and older group, which compared to the other age groups, places the lowest importance on naturalness, animal welfare, and environment.  There is a big divide when it comes to the importance of origin: the 65 and older group places quite a bit more importance on origin than do people who are 24 years and younger.  

The biggest gap is for origin (there is a 0.30 spread on the -1 to +1 scale) between the youngest Millennials and the oldest group.  The next biggest gap is for naturalness (there is a 0.22 spread on the importance scale) between the oldest group and the 25-34 year old Millennials.  The most agreement is for "fairness."

It might also be instructive to compare all this along another demographic category: gender (margin of error here is +/- 0.014).  

Women place more relative importance on safety, animal welfare, and naturalness than men. Men place more importance on convenience and novelty than women.  The biggest gap is for animal welfare (a 0.19 point difference on the -1 to +1 scale) and then convenience (a 0.16 difference).