There was a time when Millennials were referred to as one big generational group and their behaviors were attributed to their generation versus their age or life stage. Much like Gen Zs are currently being described. Now that Millennials are older and vary in their life stages — single, married, parents — some of their behaviors when it comes to dinner planning are similar to when the generations that preceded them were in that life stage and other behaviors are based on their generational attitudes and values, finds recent food market research by The NPD Group. 

Parents with children in the household, whether Millennials or Gen Xers, invest more time in preparing the dinner meal. The majority of meals are prepared and consumed in-home and it takes between 10 and 59 minutes to prepare and cook a family dinner. These types of invested dinners are forecast to grow over the next five years, according to NPD’s recent Future of Dinner study.

An example of a generational trait that sets Millennials apart from Gen Xers is that they believe that as long as they play a part in the meal preparation process, they made it. They don’t have to literally make the whole thing from scratch for it to be homemade in their eyes. Gen Xers, on the other hand, having grown up exposed to in-home cooking from scratch, acknowledge the difference between a homemade and a partially prepared meal. 

And now a new generation is being examined and observed, Generation Z, those born 1997 to present and a larger group than Millennials. Many Gen Zs, a cohort NPD recently studied for its Make It Happen for Gen Zs report, were raised by Gen X parents who taught them to understand the purpose of food and how it fits into a well-lived life. As a result, this generational cohort has set expectations that food and food brands will follow their needs and not the other way around.  When older Gen Zs, now young adults, plan their dinner they exhibit the same life stage behaviors that Millennials and other generations did as young adults. They are constantly blurring the line between access (how fast it gets to them) and convenience (how easy it is to use). Where the Gen Z generation differs from other generations is that they are growing up in a globally connected and fast-paced world and they expect flavors of the world to be available. This is a generational behavior trait that will most likely follow them through their life stages.

“It’s a common oversight not to age generations or recognize how life stage can impact behavior,” says David Portalatin, NPD Food Industry Advisor. “To understand the difference between generational and life stage behaviors enables food companies and foodservice operators to develop products, menus, and marketing messages that are more relevant to their target consumer audiences.”

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