Jenna A. Bell
Jenna A. Bell

Millennials comprise the most influential consumer generation since Baby Boomers. Millennials have a passion for health and wellness, and they demand products that deliver both without sacrificing flavor. As testimony to their impact, nutrition experts for the first time predict that a “healthy” food profile will begin to overtake cost and taste when it comes to consumer purchase drivers.

Eating is a lifestyle choice

Millennials have decided that nutrition is a lifestyle, and purchase decisions no longer are dependent on the number of grams, calories or Daily Values. This is confirmed by the progression of health and wellness in the seven years of results from the Pollock Communications and Today’s Dietitian “What’s Trending in Nutrition” survey. This one-of-a-kind survey captures the insights, predictions and expertise of frontline nutrition experts — registered dietitians. Since its launch, close to 10,000 RDs have reported “What’s Trending in Nutrition” for the incoming year. The results for 2019 show how the impact of the Millennial is changing the food industry.

O'Dwyer's Mar. '19 Food & Beverage PR MagazineThis article is featured in O'Dwyer's Mar. '19 Food & Beverage PR Magazine

Superfood popularity contest: gut check

According to the 2019 “What’s Trending in Nutrition” survey, the most popular superfood for 2019 is the category of fermented foods. The likes of kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut, kefir, miso and yogurt are included in this #1 here, suggesting that Millennials are looking for whole-body wellness and are starting with their guts. This choice indicates a level of nutrition savvy not seen in the past. To understand and desire the benefits of fermented foods is more complex than “eating more fruits and vegetables” as typically recommended. It may also suggest that consumers are becoming savvier than we might expect when it comes to their health.

Millennials are pushing plants-forward

In addition to incorporating fermented foods into their diets, Millennials are also taking a plant-based approach to better health. For some time now—decades in fact—nutrition experts have been pushing consumers to eat more plant-based foods, fiber, fruits and vegetables. Often falling on deaf ears. Not so for this generation. Millennials have listened and tailored these messages to suit their goals. RDs stated that their top recommendations are to eat more vegetables and increase fiber. It can’t be coincidental that plant-based diets come in at number-four for the top trends; and it should come as no surprise that the top 10 superfoods are plant-based, including coconut products and non-dairy milk alternatives at numbers mine and 10.

Top 10 Superfoods for 2019:

1. Fermented foods
2. Avocados
3. Seeds
4. Ancient grains
5. Exotic fruits, like golden berries or acai
6. Blueberries
7. Beets
8. Nuts
9. Coconut products
10. Non-dairy milks

Communicating with Millennials

It’s clear that information consumption is no longer vertical. Nutrition is not downstream from policy to experts to consumers. It’s now a horizontal line of communication through social media and friends and family sharing information from nutrition advice to recipes to compression sock recommendations. Consumers are the commercials and they are telling each other what to eat and buy. Unfortunately, there can be a downside to this. RDs contend that most of the nutrition misinformation consumers are buying into comes from Facebook, blogs and Instagram.

Top “diet” trends shift to lifestyles

The top three diet trends among consumers are arguably lifestyles, not diets, many of which have seen increased popularity across social platforms over the past few years: ketogenic (keto), intermittent fasting and clean eating. Keto requires dedication and can be a significant transition. Intermittent fasting requires food abstinence, something foreign to our Starbucks-on-every-corner and fast-food-at-every-stop lifestyle. Finally, clean eating doesn’t dictate what you eat, it defines how you eat.

Everyone has a food diary app

Regardless of which diet or lifestyle patients subscribe to, RDs continue to find that consumers respond best to making small, reasonable changes to improve their diet, and they recommend keeping track of what you eat. What’s different is that RDs now support using technology for nutrition self-management. Eighty-eight percent of RDs recommend that consumers use apps like iTrackbites, Lose It! or MyFitnessPal, to track their intake. RDs suggest looking for apps that allow easy tracking, reliable data and a diverse database of foods with brands and restaurants included.

Be the trend

While it took time for the food industry to take Millennials seriously as consumers, their impact is undeniable, and their demands are clear. From Boomers to Gen X, never has a generation had such a game changing impact on the food industry. The Millennial generation has taken the reins and some food manufacturers and supermarkets have responded accordingly and aggressively, from changing their ingredients to extending their product line and investing in food incubator startups.

Given that the trend towards “health” is driving purchases, the food industry should continue to be proactive in the ingredients they choose and the messages they send. Large consumer goods companies should develop and publicize brands that resonate with health and wellness; small companies should be mindful of how to serve the health-focused consumer; and commodity foods need to share their health attributes with nutrition experts and consumers alike.

The days of food companies deciding what consumers will eat is behind us. It’s a consumer world and we just live in it!

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Jenna A. Bell, PhD, RD, is Senior Vice President, Director Food & Wellness at New York-based Pollock Communications, Inc.