Brands are latching on to the health and wellness trend, but millennials consumers are driven by emotional, not material, needs. That’s according to Lisa Desforges, strategy director for brand design agency B&B Studio, who believes that millennials also want products with more substance than just being ‘convenient’ or ‘good-for-you’. Here, she details the motivations of the current generation and how they differ from their parents.
How has the food and beverage industry been impacted by the fast-paced, fairly demanding culture of millennials?
The challenge with the food and beverage industry – corporate giants and start-ups alike – is that it insists on chasing trends. The latest big trend in food and drink for millennials is ‘health and wellness’. Brands are being created and launched every day whose whole proposition is entirely product-focused and based around a short-lived food or health craze – chia seeds! clean eating! protein! kimchi!
Social media and the 24-hour cycle of wellness imagery has played a role in this but in the long term, millennials – and consumers of all ages – seek to engage beyond a superficial level. As such, these brands thrive in the moment and inevitably falter in the face of the next big thing. And this isn’t the fault of ‘fast-paced millennials’, but of marketers who fail to see their consumers as complex human beings.
What is clear about millennials is that they reserve their love and loyalty for brands that represent something more profound than a functional product message. Longevity is perfectly possible for a millennial-targeted brand, they just need to dig a little deeper.
A starting point would be to understand why health and wellness is so important to this demographic. Millennials are earning less than any generation before them and often struggle to make investments of any kind, so the concept of wealth has begun to change. Wellness is now a status symbol, with consumers turning to the parts of their lives they can control, such as their health.
As a food or beverage brand you could opt to release endless amounts of protein bars and shakes, or clean eating smoothies, but to establish strong consumer appeal and long-lasting relationships brands need the truly understand the key drivers for their target audience. In the case of millennials, these trends are being driven by emotional, not material needs, and a desire to feel part of something.
Millennials are interested in health and wellness because they can control it, Desforges says.
Is it sustainable for businesses to try and keep up with the demands of new trends?
In terms of trends, wellness is such a fluid concept. A food brand could consistently release new products in an effort to keep ahead of the curve, but to create a sustainable brand identity they must stay true to a core purpose and ensure that this comes through in every message and touchpoint – including around in-the-moment trends.
Trends in FMCG are fast-moving. One minute it’s all about fruit, the next there are concerns over sugar content and fruit is ‘out’. If your brand is built on product alone, you’re likely to hit a dead end. The most successful brands are always about something more fundamental – from a social mission to solving a sector-wide challenge – giving an inbuilt agility to evolve with the times and outlive short-term trends.
Does the millennial generation seek novelty, or do they prefer loyalty that long-lasting brands offer?
I think the millennial generation want longevity. Trend-led brands will sell products and make money – but their shelf-life is only short-term.
As we touched on earlier, millennial consumers are more considered about what to do with their money, and status has shifted away from the material as people look to make a positive difference in the world and align with brands that they identify with.
Generation Y doesn’t just want the superficial benefits of what a product can bring to them on a personal level, they want a brand they can relate to and feel good about purchasing.
Is it fair to say that the industry will always pander to expectations set by millennials, for example in moving towards a more app-based business model?
With digital mediums, food and beverage companies have to be more experiential with many evolving into wider lifestyle brands and engaging directly with their consumers through social media and apps. It’s no longer enough for products to exist on the shelf, and digital platforms provide an opportunity for brands to tap into trends and create instant connections with a global pool of consumers.
I don’t believe that brick-and-mortar retail will disappear entirely, especially in the food and beverage sector. Even though many consumers conduct their shopping online, they still require a physical space to experience the product first-hand. We are seeing increased integration with the digital world but this is not necessarily driven by millennial expectations.
Do you see companies focussing less on older generations?
There is an element of sidelining older generations in the way companies tend to focus more on Generation Y in their packaging and marketing strategies. However, I also think it’s an outdated approach to be age-oriented via demographics. The most powerful brands are focusing on consumer attitudes to drive their products forward rather than being defined by the generalisations of millennial culture.
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