The world of big food and millennials

By Anna Campbell

Ever heard of Laura Vitale? I had never heard of her, despite the fact I work in the food industry and she is the most important influencer of food sales for millennials.

She shifted from Italy to the US when she was 12; she is now 31 and posts her cooking shows on YouTube, which are filmed by her husband in their home kitchen. This has led to television shows and cookbooks and no doubt significant product sponsorship.

Apparently when senior executives at one of the world's largest food companies were asked about her, none had heard of her either which really shows how out of touch older generations are with influencers of millennials, and now centennials. Yes, for those of you struggling to deal with millennials in the workplace, the next ones coming through, in their teens now, are officially being coined the centennials. If you thought the millennial attention span was bad, at 12 seconds, apparently the centennials are even worse; try eight seconds.

Speaking of attention spans, I have digressed. I was telling you about Laura Vitale. Actually, I was telling you about the fact that no-one above the age of 30 knows who she is.

Last week, we were visited by international marketing expert Prof Damien McGloughlin, from University College Dublin. The Laura Vitale phenomenon was just one he described to highlight how fast the food and food sales world is changing. Underpinning these changes are millennial buying habits and a decline in purchases of consumer packaged goods.

The relationship between economic growth and consumer spending is breaking down which is throwing big business into a spin. Millennials don't want Tiffany's bracelets or designer handbags, nor do they want lager or cereals. Millennials want to go to Africa. They want experiences, and control of things they can control - because let's face it, their parents and grandparents are leaving them with an over-populated, over-heated world they have little control over - they can't even afford a house.

Food is something they can control and this, in combination with new technology, means we are seeing a seismic shift in how people eat. Connection, authenticity, and an understanding of where their food comes from is vital: think boutique, not big box retailers.

I know I have written about this before, but it's moving faster. Ocado is the largest pure online supermarket in the UK. If you buy groceries from Ocado, your purchases will be selected and loaded by robots, but delivered personally. If you buy online groceries in New Zealand, someone still has to walk up a supermarket aisle and select your purchases, the worse kind of efficiency for a traditional supermarket; essentially, they have lost you as their free labour unit! Ocado makes sense, especially if you live in a big city - no parking to find, no toddlers screaming their way down the aisle and no surprise when you get to the check-out at just how much you have spent. Goodbye to big box supermarkets.

How do new businesses compete? Think about buying from Amazon versus buying local. Why will you choose one over the other? Small businesses will have to produce something that can't be produced anywhere else - small, boutique authentic, specialised service and experience.

One final gem from Damien for us to think about: the consumer is a cognitive miser. We will know a little about a lot in this age where knowledge and information are readily available, and we will be passionate about just a few things. That's all we have the mental capacity for - wine, yoghurt, cheese, scouts, cricket - whatever is your thing, it will really become your thing; enjoy.