Over the past several years, there’s been a powerful movement in the food industry to eliminate “bad for you” foods and emphasize fresh, organic ingredients. As American consumers try to eat and live healthier, they’re looking for healthy ingredients that nourish their bodies and provide nutrition; rather than just feeding them. And while consumers of all ages are avoiding artificial flavors, sweeteners, preservatives, and additives, Millennials are particularly choosy about the foods they’re eating and the restaurants they eat at – and restaurant owners are taking notice.
With 49% of Millennials eating out at least once a week – more than any other generation – restaurant owners and brand managers have been looking for ways to win over this hungry group of consumers. Whether it’s healthier menu options or using more locally sourced ingredients, restaurants are doing anything they can to capture Millennials’ attention. Not just because Millennials are their most frequent customers, but because they’re also food influencers. Millennials don’t just go somewhere to eat because they’re hungry; they want to go to the trendy restaurants their friends are talking about, and share a picture of their meal with their Twitter and Instagram followers. For these foodies, it’s not just about enjoying delicious food; it’s about sharing their food experience with their friends – which translates to free word-of-mouth advertising for restaurants and brands.
Brand innovators have always paid close attention to and benefitted from the trends of their biggest consumer groups, and today, that’s most often Millennials. What separates these successful innovation strategies from the rest, however, is that successful brands stay relevant to other customer groups, while also aligning their brand with the core values Millennials are willing to support. To help you align your restaurant brand with the core values Millennials value most, while also staying true to the rest of your customer base, here are 5 different ways restaurants can attract consumers in 2015 and beyond:
Use Local Ingredients
The National Restaurant Association recently identified locally sourced food as the hottest trend of 2014. And because Millennials make it a point to stay on top of the latest trends, they’re some of the biggest supporters of Farm to Fork movement. According to a recent survey, researchers found that Millennials feel “buying local” has far reaching impacts on individual health, the environment, and local economies. They feel their purchases are helping contribute to a greater good, which also gives them a sense of pride. One brand that’s embodied this Farm to Fork movement better than anyone is the fast casual burrito chain, Chipotle. As a brand that promotes “Food With Integrity,” Chipotle serves more local produce than any restaurant company in the U.S., and only uses meat from pasture-raised animals. They’ve created healthy menu options that everyone can feel good about eating, and it’s no wonder why Millennials list it as their favorite restaurant.
Even if a product isn’t grown locally, if it’s grown organically, you can be sure consumers will love it. In fact, 88% of all consumers – from Generation Z to Baby Boomers – say they would pay more for healthy foods, including those that are GMO-free, have no artificial coloring/flavors, and are deemed all natural. Chipotle, of course, has been a flagship example of a restaurant embracing the organic, fresh food movement, but other restaurants like Panera have also jumped on board, with plans to eliminate artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and flavor enhancers from their ingredients by the end of 2016. Even big consumer brands like General Mills, Kraft, and Hershey have removed their unnatural ingredients and expanded their natural and organic offerings on grocery store shelves. In fact, according to the Organic Trade Association, organic foods now make up almost 5% of total food sales in the U.S., with sales increasing 11% from last year.
As the health food trend continues to rise, consumers of all ages are seeking out the healthiest of the health food. Superfoods like Greek yogurt, kale, and avocados are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and proteins that promote a healthy diet and provide the energy needed to stay active, and demand for these superfoods has risen dramatically over the past several years. The demand has risen so much, in fact, that the numbers of farms harvesting kale grew from 1,000 to 2,500 in the latest U.S. agricultural census. To capitalize on these popular ingredients, brands need to think of ways to incorporate these superfoods into menu offerings. For example, national sandwich chain Subway has created several sandwich recipes featuring avocado, and McDonalds has recently started experimenting using kale as an ingredient.
With Millennials being digital natives, they’ll look for any excuse to make a process easier via technology. With an online ordering system, your customers can enjoy your restaurant’s great food without having to leave the comfort of their living room – except for the quick drive to pick it up (unless you also offer delivery, of course). Whether it’s in the form of an app or just another feature on your website, Millennials will be drawn to the convenience, and can help you capitalize on the 36% of Millennials and 29% of Generation X that order takeout/food delivery at least once a week.
Support a Cause
Just as Millennials are proud to support restaurants that buy from local farmers, these socially conscious consumers are also proud to buy from restaurants that support charitable causes. By picking a cause that’s both relevant to your brand and the consumer, your customers will see you giving back, and will be driven to help support your efforts. In fact, 54% of Millennials, 53% of Generation X, and 36% of Baby Boomers say they’re more likely to visit restaurants that support charities more often. Whether it’s offering the option to add a $1 to their bill to support a cause, or offering a percentage of your nightly sales to a local charity, there are hundreds of ways to get involved, and your customers will appreciate just about all of them – as long you prove you’re genuinely committed.
Want to learn more about the different tactics today’s brands are using to win over Millennial consumers? Download our free Millennial eBook to see 13 different strategies that have proven to be effective: