Millennial tastes are driving marketers crazy, but it's doing the food industry good.

If you're ever in the mood for a laugh, throw "millennials," "brands," and "marketing" into the ol' Google and give the internet a peruse.

At any given moment, marketing executives around the world are being paid gazillions of dollars to figure out the mystery behind what millennials buy and why we buy it. With the tactical precision of the three blind mice, advertisers invent absurd strategies to capture our attention, launching campaigns that they think are lit af but fall miserably short of the goal.

Especially in the food industry, marketers act like millennial behavior is totally uninterpretable. (Remember when they tried to say we don't eat cereal because we're lazy? That's why I opt for a fresh egg omelette every morning instead — way easier.)


Millennials are older now and starting to make up more of the world's annual spending, so whether they like it or not, brands are having to take our preferences more seriously. And (to their abject horror, I assume) what they're finding is that what we want is not only pretty simple, but could also have a positive impact on the food industry at large.

For starters, millennials want more facts about the food we consume.

Not too much to ask, right? As the first generation that grew up alongside rather than ahead of the internet, millennials learned at a young age that any information we want is information we can get as long as we enter the right search terms. Our ability to instantly verify any claim an advertisement makes is why only 1% of millennials report being swayed by traditional marketing strategies. We rely instead on what we can trust: ourselves.

This is having a positive effect on the food industry because it means companies are becoming more transparent about their products to gain the trust of millennial consumers.

In a 2012 study of American and British adults, 8 in 10 millennials said they appreciated "behind the scenes" commercials for their food, like Whole Foods Market's Values Matter campaign, which links back to a page where the readers can verify the company's sustainability claims personally. By comparison, only 6.5 in 10 baby boomers indicated that they wanted more information about their food from brands.

Millennials look to the facts for proof that the products we buy are doing good.

GlobeScan CSR has coined a term for this type of shopper — aspirationals, or "materialists who believe they have a responsibility to purchase products that are good for the environment and society." Millennials tend to fall into this category, with 40% of us preferring to shop local and nearly 75% of us willing to pay extra for sustainable goods.

Shopping local and sustainable produce cuts down on waste and pollution. It also boosts local economies and ecosystems.

Photo by Stephen Chernin/iStock.

As a result, brands are being forced to do better in order to stay competitive in a millennial-driven market.

To satisfy our desire for fact-based corporate responsibility practices, companies that already had these practices in place, like Whole Foods, are pushing that information out into the open, heightening the overall level of transparency in the food industry at large.

In 2015, 81% of S&P 500 companies released sustainability reports, up from 20% in 2011. In response to this pressure, the brands that aren't meeting the same high responsibility standards are being forced to change their practices to stay competitive. Even restaurants that are considered categorically unhealthy have launched plans to up their corporate practices, like McDonald's, which in 2014 announced its intent to gradually switch to sustainable beef.

As market demand (and brand loyalty) shifts toward environmentally and socially conscious business, corporations are adjusting, even before governments step in to enforce regulations.

There's one more way to capture a millennial's brand loyalty: Take a stand on something.

Millennial consumers aren't just interested in a company's ethics where its own business is concerned. Brands that advocate for social causes, such as LGBTQ rights, immigration law, and gender equality gain favor with millennials. Companies, like Starbucks, which not only exhibit ethical corporate policy and excellent employee treatment, but also frequently speak out on social and political issues, have some of the strongest brand-loyal customers worldwide.

As millennials take the wheel on driving the market, the food industry could also get a lot more culturally diverse.

As a group, millennials are more ethnically diverse than our predecessors and have a more welcoming attitude toward new and different food cultures. The Hartman Group's study on generational food trends reports that millennials are 10-20% less interested in classic American or Americanized ethnic foods than baby boomers, and they express an increased interest in different kinds of global cuisine. A growing demand for international food could present a wider niche for new business opportunities, like immigrant-owned restaurants.

Image via iStock.

The takeaway? Once marketers stop hating on millennial preferences, the whole industry should see an increase in pro-social, sustainable food culture.

While it's true that millennials might present more of a challenge to marketers than in the past, that's a really good thing. It suggests that the market is being driven by a smarter, more empathetic consumer base, which in turn is driving companies to pick up more socially and environmentally friendly practices that benefit all of us.

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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