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Millennials’ Cereal… and Food Habits are an Industry Wake Up Call

Monday, March 7, 2016

In honor of National Cereal Day today, Watershed’s founder Lisa Donoughe provides her insight on the recent Washington Post report about millennial breakfast habits:



Millennials don’t mind living in their parent’s basements. They’d rather earn less money and be fully engaged in their work than earn six-figures but now we know they don’t do dishes.


As reported in Kim Severson’s February 22, 2016 story, according to an August 2015 Mintel study involving millennials, nearly 40 percent won’t eat cereal because it’s too much work to clean the bowl.


This is the same generation who will take an hour-long subway-ride deep to the heart of Queens to learn how to make authentic Afghani food from a League of Kitchens immigrant cooking school instructor.

Food Isn’t a Source of Fuel, It’s a Fetish


The shift from food as nutrition to entertainment has created its own economy. The 1993 launch of Food Network created a 24/7 pipeline of chef-driven TV. We went from Bam! to You’re Chopped to burgers and dives and kids with knives.


And it’s great to have such access to creativity in the kitchen. However, the constant stream of inspired food demonstrations on television and on-line has created a huge gap between the “cookable” and “craveable.”


Unless one was raised in a family where cooking happened daily and that knowledge was transferred, the tsunami of food content is confidence crushing in the kitchen.


In Eve Turow’s book A Taste of Generation Yum: How the Millennial Generation’s Love for Organic Fare, Celebrity Chefs and Microbrews Will Make or Break the Future of Food she sets out to understand her own generation’s obsessive relationship to food. One of her main themes is that food has become the way to relate to and shape one’s on-line identity or brand. Knowing where the best sour beers are brewed or where to find Korean barbecue demonstrates to your peers that you are relevant, savvy and connected.


Food Literacy is the Social Currency of the Millennial Lifestyle


The knowledge, language and culture is what satisfies — not the calories.


Sure, each generation has its own values. As a Generation Xer, we signaled our identity in our teens and 20s based upon our concert preferences. And that’s what is interesting. Each generation has its own fingerprint on the culture based upon what else is happening with technology, the economy and international relations, etc.


But when 80 million Americans think it’s too much work to clean a bowl, something else seems wrong. This generation’s desire to share and have a special or unique experience should not trump the value of saving a dime or keeping things simple. A morning ritual involving a quick, nutritious and affordable source of calories has long been an acceptable way to start the day. Not every moment needs to be something worthy of a photograph. And maybe the survey asked the wrong question.


Millennials Look at Their Food Choices Based Upon the Return On Investment

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“Is the 2 minutes I will spend cleaning the bowl worth the taste and experience of eating the cereal?”


That evaluation involves critical thinking and a look at the ingredients, which is a thoughtful and engaged process. Millennials are asking more of food manufacturers than ever before. They’re demanding quality, better ingredients and something special.


They will spend $200 billion dollars next year and I bet they’re willing to clean the bowl if it has something genuinely delicious, with great texture and is made from all natural ingredients.


The survey results aren’t shocking because it shows us that millennials won’t clean bowls. It’s a wake up call to cereal manufacturers and others. This eater is no longer being force-fed empty calories and sugar. They’re hungry and smart and defining a new breakfast of champions.


Lisa Donoughe is the founder and president of Watershed, a creative agency in Portland, Oregon.


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