It's not surprising that baby boomer food executives are scrambling to understand Millennial consumer habits. They are a generation that has foregone napkins, cereal, and cooking, yet spends untold amounts on pizza, brunch, Slurpees, and nacho cheese.
Despite the crushing debt incurred by most Millennials, they sure know how to make their voices heard as consumers, and the food industry is listening.
A recent study of the coffee industry commissioned by custom coffee roaster S&D Coffee & Tea revealed that Millennials are as particular about coffee as they are about pretty much everything else. The online survey, which looked at more than 900 Millennials' coffee-buying habits, found that coffee is about way more than just beans and price.
Above all, the study suggests that for Millennials, buying coffee is "an emotional experience" that goes far beyond the cash register. "The language Millennials use and the attitudes they have indicate that they are deeply connected to coffee on an emotional level. For them, coffee is not just a drink, it's an experience," Food Navigator wrote, quoting the original study.
And a big part of that experience is consuming "sustainable" coffee, with 45 percent of participants saying that they think more highly of purveyors who sell a sustainably sourced product, and a quarter adding that they would go "out of their way" to get it. Sustainability even surpassed Fair Trade, local, and organic certifications as the main criterion for coffee consumption.
But, in classic Millennial fashion, only 22 percent of respondents claimed to know what "sustainability" actually meant when it comes to coffee. According to Food Navigator, for some Millennials it meant organic, while for some, it meant environmentally friendly, and for others, it meant better taste or aroma.
Practically speaking, these results showed that young people are willing to pay a premium for whatever their definition of sustainable is, and that's what has the coffee industry interested. And other than shedding light on how young people perceive and consume the world's most popular drug, this market research could provide valuable insight on how to sell coffee to a very savvy generation.
Interestingly, the study concluded by warning coffee companies against just slapping meaningless sustainability certifications onto their beans. "Use of coffee terms as mere labels will render them powerless to sharp-eyed Millennials who are increasingly skeptical of unsupported language," the authors wrote.
So, while Millennials might not know what words like sustainable mean, they sure know how to sniff out bullshit.