The millennial mindset
David Coletto, CEO of Abacus Data, was a keynote speaker at Canada’s Agriculture Day celebrations held in Ottawa on Feb. 12. Specializing in millennial research, and a millennial himself, Coletto bridged the understanding of millennials as the new dominant consumer group in Canada and how the agri-food industry may want to respond to their new best customer. Whalen photo

OTTAWA – “There are now about 9.5 million millennials in Canada making up 27 per cent of the population, and they are all going to be eligible to vote in the next election,” says David Coletto, CEO of Abacus Data. Whereas boomers – those born between 1946 and 1965 – currently make up 25.6 per cent of the population; a close but distinctly second position.

Coletto was a keynote speaker at the Canada’s Agriculture Day celebrations in Ottawa on Feb. 12 sponsored by Ag More Than Ever. A millennial himself, Coletto specializes in millennial research and spoke of the changes and impacts millennials will have in the marketplace, particularly with regard to food.

Coletto advised boomers to move past the stereotype of, ‘Kids these days!’ suggesting that every generation has surmised the demise of life as we know it due to a lazy, narcissistic younger generation who thrives on instant gratification and won’t move out of the basement! He said, “Take another look”.

Today’s millennials, currently aged 23 to 38, want the same things as previous generations – a career, house, and to start a family. They are also recognized as the most tech savvy, entrepreneurial, ethnically diverse and tolerant, and the most educated generation so far. And, this is the first generation where more women have a post-secondary education than men. With immigration on the rise, these number are expected to increase rapidly.

“Boomers had a good run,” summarized Coletto, “but it’s over!”

The uniqueness of millennials as a consumer group has a lot to do with the way they were raised, explains Coletto. It used to be that children were seen but not heard; not so with millennials. Millennials as children were invited to the adult table to have a say in feelings, opinions and activities. They were told and encouraged to believe that they could do or be anything. They were given everything they wanted, over parented, and got a medal or trophy for participation; then were horrified to realize that the real world is not what was promised to them.

Technology also has had a huge impact on millennials, explains Coletto. There is a huge technology gap between millennials and their boomer parents – which gave power to the kids. The kids ended up installing Facebook on their parents’ devices, then exited Facebook themselves in droves as they certainly didn’t want to be on a platform where their parents could monitor their activities.

Technology also made everything instant. From information, to purchases, to communication; why wait? Interestingly, Coletto attributes “our tech infused world leads to a craving for intimacy and sensory experiences”.  Surprisingly, Coletto’s research indicates millennials are having less sex than previous generations. Instead, this “craving for intimacy and sensory experiences” is increasingly being filled with food! They want a relationship with food and the people who produce and make it. This is further supported by his research that indicates ‘Food and Drink’ is the number one pastime for millennials followed by ‘Travel and Adventure’ as a distant second. In fact, 50 per cent of millennials self-identify as foodies.

Also changing are family roles. Coletto advises against making assumptions as to who is doing what in the home these days. Millennial households are more collaborative than previous generations with 42 per cent of men being the primary cooks in their homes.

Also increasing is the number of millennials eating out (2.3 per cent compared to 1.5 per cent of the rest of the population); ordering takeout or delivery (2.0 per cent compared to 1.1 per cent for everyone else); and ordering ready-to-prepare foods such as or Uber Eats (12.8 per cent compared to 14.4 per cent for everyone else).

Coletto noted that home delivery for online purchases and foods are now so common that people are having secure delivery boxes, some of them even refrigerated, built into their homes. Porch pirates be gone!

When it comes to palate preferences, millennials are regarded as ‘flexitarians’ meaning they don’t follow only one dietary regime. In a constant search for new tastes, flavours and culinary experiences, millennials are eating more organic, less animal protein, more vegan and are more likely to follow a Ketogenic diet – but not because they believe in the philosophy behind each, but rather for the varied taste experience.  

Quoting Eve Turow from her book A Taste of Generation Yum, Coletto noted, “millennials are actively, purposefully integrating food into their lives and giving it daily attention and value in a different proportion than any previous generation.”

In closing, Coletto suggested the food industry, “throw the old rule book out!” Instead, the agriculture and agri-food sector should change their policies, processes and attitudes to meet the need for millennials to have transparency, control, choice and a relationship with their food. After all, millennials are soon going to be the bosses.