How Millennials Eat + Insights from the 2012 Catersource Tradeshow

Friday, March 02, 2012

This past week I spoke at the annual Event Solutions Idea Factory conference in Las Vegas, which is co-located with another conference, Catersource. After my session on Sunday, I spent the rest of my time attending classes, talking with event professionals, and walking the Catersource and Event Solutions tradeshow floor.

This particular tradeshow is attended by a wide range of people: everyone from planners who focus only on weddings to inventory buyers for grocery stores to people who work on producing various aspects of mega events, including the Olympics. The companies exhibiting at the tradeshow are there to help people have a better experience in some way, whether it's software to help streamline the business operations of your wedding cake company, a more efficient oven for the back of the house, or the linens that help set a mood for the guests attending an event and allow photographers to get better detail shots, making it easier for the event to get published.

sequin and chevron wedding linen
This linen from the new 2012 line from La Tavola Linen combines two very popular style trends: sequins and chevron.

One of the things I noticed this year was the number of exhibitors with products that were either gluten-free or ethically sourced. This is important to pay attention to because it isn't merely a dietary trend like Atkins, South Beach or Paleo, it's an attitude towards food that millennials are embracing more than any other generation.

The millennial generation (born 1979-2000) doesn't just account for more than 70% of today's weddings, they are now the majority group in the workforce as well. More and more, the people responsible for booking vendors for events on behalf of their companies are young adults and this age group makes decisions surrounding food differently. If your company is involved with the menu creation for a wedding or event, knowing the nuances of how millennials approach eating can help you both market to this group more effectively and create experiences for them and their guests that will increase loyalty and referrals.

It's on trend to be a foodie. In the past few years, the circulation numbers for Bon Appétit magazine have been at an all-time high. And more than just enjoying gourmet food, millennials feel it is important to be socially responsible foodies. 70% of millennials are buying less bottled water because of the negative environmental impact. 80% want to know more about how the food they are eating is grown and who is growing it and 81% feel that companies are not doing a good enough job disclosing how their food is grown or where the ingredients come from.

gluten free food for events

In addition, there is a renewed focus on personal health. Gluten-free is a growing market, accounting for $2.7 billion in global sales last year alone and estimated to hit $3.4 billion by 2015. Millennials are also twice as likely than Baby Boomers to purchase food that is "certified organic" and 9% more likely than Gen X.

Because millennials grew up in an education system that promoted group work over individual study, soliciting peer feedback is a way of life. This generation prefers to go grocery shopping with friends rather than alone, and they use phone apps to scan barcodes and find out more about a product before adding it to their cart. When millennials sit down to plan an event, they bring these habits and perspectives with them. While they obviously cannot scan a plate at a tasting, they will want to know where the food comes from.

This shift in attitudes towards food is fueled in part by books like Michael Pollen's In Defense of Food and Food Rules. Millennials value education and are avid researchers. When a potential client has read books like this or watched documentaries like Food, Inc, they feel more empowered to make informed decisions about what they eat, and they will demand that your company be able to accommodate their new lifestyle choices. If your staff isn't also educated on the food philosophies younger clients are embracing, then millennial customers are more likely to award their business to someone they feel "gets it," and understands and "gets them." This isn't just a matter of saying "we can create a gluten-free menu." You are more likely to not only land the client's business, but also increase food and beverage revenues if your staff can carry on an articulate conversation about food philosophy.

Creating a memorable event isn't just about designing a beautiful event. It's about creating an experience that people can connect with on an emotional level. Paying attention to how a generation of customers value food and dining can give you a competitive advantage over companies that choose not to educate themselves on how their clients are making decisions.

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