Though they haven't always been called "Millennials," young-adult riffraff has always been fond of loitering near 7-11s and corner stores, grazing on their highly caloric offerings and then littering the ensuing garbage into nearby bushes. Though this habit primarily takes place while under the influence, it's also a preferred after-school activity of older teenagers who can't yet go to bars but need to meet up somewhere. But what about the 18–34 crowd? Are they, like their younger siblings, directing spigots of liquified nacho cheese and sugary snow directly into their mouths, too?
Yes. With great enthusiasm.
Research firm NPD Group has released the 2014 edition of its annual Eating Patterns in America report, which notes changes in American food-buying patterns year over year. And the newest findings show that Millennials are (so shockingly) forgoing Michelin-starred restaurants in favor of spending ever-more-significant amounts of chow time at convenience stores.
In fact, the demographic-that-hates-being-identified-as-"Millennials" is making more than one out of every ten of its "food and beverage stops" at convenience stores—11.1 percent, to be exact, compared to just 7.7 percent in 2006. And while that might not sound like a super-high number right off the bat, consider that it's twice the number of food stops made at fast-casual restaurants, such as Chipotle, Panera Bread, and Baja Fresh, which are insanely and increasingly popular in their own right (and accounted for 6.1 percent of Millennials' food stops this past year).
Harry Balzer, chief food industry analyst at NPD Group, tells USA Today, "Millennials are cheap—they're no different from anyone else ... What we mostly do in our lives is get food as fuel."
Balzer also says that Millennials' boundless affinity for chocolate-covered pretzels and chili cheese dogs is putting fast-food chains in the hot seat, as they struggle to reckon with being undercut by convenience store prices and facing growing competition from slightly-more-trustworthy fast-casual fare. The convenience store industry is valued at more than $200 billion, and the National Association of Convenience Stores counts more than 152,000 stores as members.
And if you're reading this and thinking to yourself, "Well, everyone makes the occasional pit stop for a dirty magazine and an ice cream bar—why are we being singled out? Why is everyone always picking on Millennials just because we love sexting and getting liberal arts degrees?" Well, actually, this barely-yet-decidedly-legal demographic has somehow become the single most likely of any age group to stop and buy food items at convenience stores. Jeff Lenard, spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores, explains that Millennials are "impulse buyers," making them susceptible to all of the easy deals and novelty items (remember Doritos Loaded?) that these chains can drum up. All of that Snapchat is going straight to your brain, kids!
I asked a couple of (fellow) Millennials what their convenience store poisons of choice are to get a better idea of what kinds of highly nutritious foods this cultural group is seeking out of glorified gas stations.
Emerson Rosenthal, 23, says, "We used to call it 'swamp water,' but basically you get every soda—and a bunch of Slurpee too, if you're feeling fancy—and then you drink it with sour straws."
Reed Dunlea, 27, prefers "a banana and Sour Patch watermelons."
Convenience, particularly in this case, is still king.