In an ongoing series of attacks against the products they grew up on, the millennials have struck again. This time, it’s American cheese they’re ousting. The processed food that does not contain enough cheese to be legally called cheese is being passed over for fancier cheeses that are actually cheese, according to data from the United States Department of Agriculture.
The trend has been duly noted by popular eateries such as Panera and even fast food chains like McDonald’s, leaving brands like Kraft Singles and Velveeta in a downward sales spiral.
This is a pattern we see time and time again among millennials, across all consumer categories: They shun a time-honored commodity (that maybe wasn’t so great in the first place), and open their hearts and wallets to what they deem a better alternative, be it for health, ethics, experience, budget, or all of the above.
And should we really be blaming them? As Jason “Retailgeek” Goldberg, senior vice president for commerce at SapientRazorfish points out, “One big problem with millennials is that they’re poorer than any other generation before them at their age.”
Millennials aren’t snubbing products because they’re snobs (at least, not always); often they’re simply resisting superfluous purchases because they have to be frugal with their money.
With that in mind, here’s look at some of the American classics in food, retail, and hospitality that millennials are taking the heat for making obsolete, along with a glance at what they’re buying instead.
Remember when we just had good old flavored yogurt and then, the revolution of nonfat yogurt? Well, the yogurt aisle has greatly diversified since then, and sales of these once-mainstay products are starting to curdle. General Mills has seen a continued decline of its U.S. Yoplait yogurt, reporting an 11 percent decline in the last quarter of 2017.
Millennials haven’t dropped the spoon though; they’re just opting for other kinds of yogurts in the $7.6 billion dollar category. Yogurt products by brands like Chobani and Noosa, which tout their Greek and farm-fresh origins, respectively, have gained enthusiasts and increased presence on refrigerated store shelves.
Dannon actually held the number one spot in 2017 for yogurt, but they own a slew of yogurt brands including its fastest grower Oikos, a Greek-style nonfat yogurt that has been a leader in the "brogurt" subcategory.
“When I moved to Oklahoma three years ago, I asked some of my [millennial] undergrads what the good radio stations were and they looked at me like I was crazy,” says Amanda Baraldi, a professor. “They didn’t know what stations even existed because they just use their phones.”
More and more millennials are tuning out of AM/FM and moving to digital subscription services, a trend that we’re seeing across all media, and also in retail sectors.
“Millennials are interested in being surprised by brands who get to know about them and their interests, and introduce them to new products and content they’ll be interested in,” said Rob Holland, Chief Operating Officer at Bluecore. “Brands that are successful in engaging with millennials and getting them to buy more are StitchFix, Ipsy, FabFitFun, Netflix, Spotify — those that are able to collect and combine those key data points and transform them into the next relevant product (or content) introduction.”
Millennials aren’t marrying as early as their parents did, but they are marrying — and they’re likely to throw a big, pricey shindig that includes "total personalization and an unforgettable guest experience,” according to a recent survey by The Knot.
That might rule out the off-the-rack approach favored by David’s Bridal, America's largest bridal store, which could be facing bankruptcy as it struggles to win that matrimonial money. Millennials instead look to smaller boutique brands that highlight uniqueness at any cost.
“David’s Bridal was walking distance from my office so I decided to check it out," said Anna Peries-Clark, who wed in 2015. "The dresses looked cheap and weren't very fashionable. My dress was from BHLDN” — the bridal offshoot of Anthropologie, which offers a curated selection of dresses, many of them lightweight with a vintage or fairy aesthetic.
“You get what you pay for,” said bride-to-be Juliet Guisasola, 36. “David’s Bridal has inexpensive gowns and the staff is really nice, but smaller boutiques might be willing to give you a deal if you pay cash and it never hurts to ask what they can do for the price.”
Millennials have been increasingly keen on Airbnb, but this isn’t the only trend that should concern mega hotel chains. Thanks to apps like HotelTonight, which delivers users last-minute deals on independent and boutique hotel stays, millennial interest in non-corporate hospitality is surging.
“Millennials are twice as likely to book a boutique hotel, and 90 percent of our revenue comes from boutique and independent hotels,” Sam Shank, CEO of HotelTonight, told NBC News. “They’re eschewing cookie cutter chain hotels for hotels that have a [unique] décor and sense of place, often with cool, nostalgic amenities. They’re also not taking long vacations the way folks used to, opting for more long weekends, road trips, festivals and staycations where they can enjoy a pool or A/C.”
It’s worth noting that while millennials appear to be leading the pack in abandoning American mainstays and embracing alternative products, they aren’t the only age group doing so.
“We do see millennials behaving in ways differently than consumers did 10 years ago, but in almost all cases, we also see Gen Xers and even boomers and certainly Gen Z making those same shifts at the same time,” said Goldberg.
“It's less that millennials are doing something unique, and more that they’re the biggest share of the population that is changing behaviors in response to new stimulus. The change is happening throughout all cohorts, it’s just being ascribed to millennials because they’re the biggest of all them.”