The generalized, "customers don't know what they want…" business rhetoric simply doesn't apply to Millennials. Demanding what they want, how they do and don't want it, and when they want it are hallmarks of Millennials—the 69 millions U.S. adults currently aged 18–34. Millennials are significantly more likely than adults age 35-plus to like standing out in a crowd, to enjoy making fashion statements, and to expect their cars to express their own personality. This pronounced proclivity for bold and confident individualism extends noticeably to Millennials' food choices, according to market research publisher Packaged Facts in the brand-new report Millennial Menus: Culinary Trend Tracking Series.

In the report, Packaged Facts explores how to cultivate the demanding but trendsetting Millennial generation as culinary consumers by focusing on five of the top food trends these young adults are inspiring:

Customization: Today's consumers in general and Millennials in particular want food items that are fresh, creative, and made just for them. That's where the customization trend comes in—and it's hotter than ever in the fast-growing fast-casual segment. Talk about a game changer: the Millennial definition of customized, personalized, made-to-order food goes way beyond "white, wheat, or rye" to encompass restaurant meals that are bespoke in their entirety. More than a third of Millennials order something different every time they visit a restaurant. What better way to entice them to a restaurant than to offer a mix-and-match dining experience where they can build something different every time?

Mash-ups: Cronuts. Ramen Burgers. Nacho Lasagna and "non-denominational noodle bars."  Who could have guessed it would come to this? Taking up where fusion left off, the sky is the limit for the mash-up trend, including a growing opportunity for consumers to get involved in the creation of the newest crazy-mixed-up food or beverage. Many Millennials are thrill-seeking foodies. They're the target market that food retailers and brands are most seeking to please, because where Millennials go, the rest of the world follows.  And nothing else piles it on quite like mash-ups.

Munchies: Ditching the three-meals-a-day standard, Millennials are reshaping how Americans eat, often opting for several snacks, or small meals throughout the day. With 35 percent of Millennials trending toward snacks as meal replacements, munchies are now expected to be healthful, flavorful, and portable. The snack food market offers almost limitless room for expansion, ranging from whole-grain crackers packaged with vegetable-based spreads to cricket flour cookies to sippable soups.

Bowls: Burgers may still be king, but bowls are fast becoming the preferred vessel for everything from rice, noodles and salad to quinoa, acai, and poké. Whether the ingredients are customized or pre-set, bowls allow for creative expression and plenty of room for healthy ingredients, all within a familiar format. And as diners continue to look for personalized plates, the build-your-own bowl trend offers an attractive alternative in an assembly-line format. With breakfast and lunch/dinner bowls already becoming a familiar part of the restaurant landscape, snack-size, and dessert bowls are ready for their close-up.

Shrubs and Digestives. As consumers become more interested in probiotics, shrubs, and digestive have taken on new life in the market as beverages, mixers, and flavoring agents.  For example, the consumer search for healthier alternatives to sugary drinks—which has caused the long-noted decline in traditional soda sales—has led to rekindled enthusiasm among Millennials for drinking vinegars, artisanal tonics, and kombucha, launching a segment of the beverage industry that is increasing in volume to match consumer interest.

Millennial Menus is the latest installment in Packaged Facts' stalwart Culinary Trend Tracking Series (CuTTS). Each CuTTS report (75 pages plus) is designed to serve as an essential source for tracking culinary trends and opportunities in the restaurant, foodservice, retail prepared foods, and packaged food and beverage sectors. The report series empowers the menu and food manufacturing innovation of executives, strategists, chefs, and food research professionals in R&D/product development, market and consumer insights, brand management, and trade and consumer marketing.

Consumer Trends, News