Millennials & Grocery: Shopping Trends for 2018

by Andrew Hoeft | Feb 7, 2018 12:00:00 AM

Just about every industry is trying to figure out how millennials stand to disrupt traditional norms and buying habits––including the grocery and broader retail world.

For grocers looking to orient themselves within the broader supermarket and retail environment in 2018, we’ve gathered recent industry data to highlight the trends that are most likely to solidify as permanent fixtures of the grocery world in the short and long term.

Here are four key millennial grocery shopping trends that have emerged from recent reports and industry research:

1. Comfort over curiosity: online grocery shopping is catching on.

Some of the biggest, and very much still developing news came as a shock to many grocers: Millenials are very quickly becoming comfortable shopping for groceries online.

Following Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods back in August of last year, the company quickly outfitted their locations with pickup lockers and other features connecting the convenience of online ordering to the immediacy of brick-and-mortar.

Together with the emergence of ingredient-and-recipe meal kit services like BlueApron and HelloFresh, those who’ve studied this very recent trend are discovering that millennials are getting hungry to ditch physical shopping carts for digital ones faster than many thought.

According to FMI’s 2017 U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends Report, the frequency of online-only store channel shopping went from 28 percent in 2016 to 43 percent in 2017. This dramatic shift was driven in large part by millennials, as illustrated in the report’s demographic breakdown below.

Frequency of Shopping Online-Only Retailers

Frequency of Shopping Online-Only Retailers

Source: FMI’s 2017 U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends Report

It’s important to note that while the number of millennial shopping for groceries online are growing significantly, they tend to select a narrow range of products to purchase online. Here are the products the report found millennial are most and least likely to buy online:

Grocery products millennial are more likely to buy online:

  • Baby food
  • Pet food or treats
  • Household cleaning products
  • Salty and sweet snacks

Grocery products millennials are least likely to buy online:

  • Non-prescription drugs
  • Fresh bakery items
  • Fresh meats and seafood
  • Refrigerated dairy foods
  • Fresh produce

2. Millennials are gravitating toward honest, ethical, and sustainable producers

Corporate social responsibility weighs heavy in the minds of many millennial who want their purchases to have impact beyond the producer’s bottomline.

As stated in their report, FMI elegantly reasoned that consumers “see transparency as a shortcut to confidence in a complex food system.” What’s more, researchers found that younger shoppers want food retailers and manufacturers to be open and honest about the details of their products.

FMI found that 72 percent of millennials indicated they are somewhat or very likely to scan a QR code/label, a rate 17 percent higher than Gen X––a trend that is almost certainly fueled by the explosion of food information and monitoring apps that allow users to see a wealth of data about a product with a simple smartphone scan. FoodKeeper and SmartLabel are two popular examples.

As referenced in an article by Fung Global Retail Tech, a survey by Euromonitor International, 40% of millennials in the U.S. look for limited or no artificial ingredients when reading food labels, compared to 33% of baby boomers. Research by marketing firm FutureCast found that 80% of millennials value having access to information about how their food is produced.

3. Store employees are a valued component of customer service

A recent study asking consumers for their thoughts and feelings on the value of store employees at retail locations found that 63 percent of all shoppers see store associates as extremely important—with an additional 28 percent saying that store associates are somewhat important. Only 9 percent saw associates as unimportant to their shopping experience. Focusing on millennials in particular, researchers found that 94 percent of respondents thought store employees were an important presence, versus just 6 percent thinking they were somewhat or extremely unimportant.

Perhaps the most surprising detail within these numbers is the role technology plays in valuing store employees. Counter to most intuitions, tech-savvy millennials placed the highest value on store associates, while baby boomers were the most comfortable without human interaction in the retail environment.

Similarly surprising was millennials’ thoughts on bots replacing human associates. 42 percent of people within this age group were not in favor of stores replacing human workers with automated systems and 30 percent were on the fence.

4. Food safety is a core trust factor

FMI’s report found that 94 percent of millennial shoppers trust the food they purchase from stores are safe––a 3 percent increase from 2016.

As millennial shoppers continue to mix-and-match various shopping methods to purchase food, their trust relies on their confidence that grocers will ensure the safety of our food, regardless of how they purchase it.

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