Millennials, those born between 1981 and 1997, make up the largest living generation in the United States, numbering 74.4 million. Many readers in the meat industry will be surprised to learn that millennials are spending almost 75% more than baby boomers on meat (Midan Marketing, “Millennials, Boomers and Meat: A Closer Look). Despite this increased spend, many meat industry experts are mystified by millennial meat purchasing habits. As millennials enter the peak of their purchasing power and start building their own families, it is important for people in the meat industry to keep a keen eye on millennial preferences so that they can perform well selling to this massive market segment going forward.
Something is causing an unprecedented number of millennials to eat out more than past generations, negatively affecting retail meat sales. Morgan Stanley found that 53% of millennials dine out once a week, compared to 43% of the general population. When millennials do purchase meat to prepare at home, they gravitate towards easy-to-prepare meals, creating both challenges and opportunities for the meat industry. Is this because millennials grew up with the conveniences of internet shopping and on-demand cell phone apps like Uber, simply making them lazy, or are millennials just less informed about meat preparation than past generations? Market research would indicate the latter. Only 36% of millennials rate themselves as “very knowledgeable” about how to prepare fresh meat, compared to 54% of boomers (Power of Meat 2016). According to a major study on millennial preferences by the Beef Checkoff, “Why Millennials Matter: A Research Overview,” 54% of millennials admit that it is hard to know what cut of meat to choose in the meatcase and 50% say they stick to buying the same cuts of meat but would diversify if they knew more about the different cuts. While millennials will likely become more knowledgeable as they age as a group, closing the knowledge gap with boomers to some degree, the massive lack of knowledge about meat preparation among millennial consumers presents a major challenge and opportunity for the meat industry as they aim to improve performance with this key segment.
Despite changing tastes and a preference for dining out, smart retailers can find ways to take advantage of the millennial desire for convenience. A 30% increase in in-store dining and take-out of prepared food at grocery stores since 2008 indicates that prepared meals present a growing opportunity for grocers (NPD, Millennials Are Driving the Rise of the Grocerant). Similarly, prepared meats account for 44% of millennial meat purchases compared to 22% for baby boomers (Midan Marketing). As millennials start families and establish themselves as the dominant segment in retail meat sales, the value-added meat category will become increasingly important. The retail meat industry should focus on providing more ready-to-eat food, semi-prepared food (e.g. marinated meats,) and instructional information going forward. If meat companies and retailers want to succeed with this new generation of consumers, it is important for them to prioritize two things: consumer education to reduce the current level of confusion among millennials, and product innovation, to create convenient products that millennials find obvious and less intimidating.