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Millennials and milk

-Submitted photo
A recent study conducted by Midwest Dairy shows the focus on marketing and selling dairy products has made a shift to the millennial generation

The demand for dairy continues to grow, but what will it take to keep that nutritious food source going into the shopping carts of today’s consumer — specifically the millennial generation?

Midwest Dairy discussed this topic during a recent webinar: Millennials and Milk: three ways to reach the largest buying population.

Megan Sheets, manager of consumer insights at Midwest Dairy said they used the opportunity for the webinar to announce some of the findings from a recent study done in partnership with Information Resources Incorporated that focused on the millennial’s path to purchase milk.

Questions and concerns about the dairy industry

Sheets said the questions and concerns of the dairy industry just five to 10 years ago seemed to be more focused on caloric intake and other nutritional profile information.

In that short time it appears those questions have evolved.

Millennial consumers were asked to share if they could ask a dairy farmer anything, what would they ask? Questions varied from nutrition to animal care as well as plant-based milks.

Some of those questions included, “what are the nutritional and developmental benefits of milk for a growing baby?” “What are you guys doing to ensure the food that goes into our cattle is the most organic and healthy food for them?” “How are cows treated? What conditions to they live in?” “When you are growing and scaling your farm, how does that affect the quality when it comes to the treatment of the animals, the quality food they get and the quality they produce?” “What is your plan to compete against companies that sell non-dairy products such as almond and soy milk?”

“Animal welfare, sustainability practices, what do operations look like on a dairy farm – they are curious of the business model,” said Sheets. “They asked about health benefits. We heard some clarity on what the consumer was looking for. Those were some great questions.”

Why target millennials?

“Internally, we have identified a segment of consumers that showed a great opportunity for increasing dairy demand that we call the conflicted health seeker,” she said. “This consumer, they’re ones that live a healthy lifestyle. They care about how food is made. They are informed and are really conscience of their food decisions. When we took a step back and really looked at the age demographic of this conflicted health seeker segment, the majority of them are millennials.”

Why is the millennial consumer really relevant for growing dairy sales?

“They’re spending power is greater than gen x and boomers put together, however, despite being the largest population in size and being in their prime earning years, millennials don’t actually make up the largest share of spending on food, which really poses this great opportunity,” she said.

This opportunity, Sheets further explained, is important as more than half of millennial households have children and are also getting married.

“What we know about households that do have kids from sales data, is that households with kids purchase more milk, cheese and yogurt — making the millennial consumer very optimal for engaging them and drawing them deeper into the category,” she said.

How do millennials shop for milk differently? And what motivates them to purchase milk?

Chris Costagli, consultant client insights for Information Resources, Inc. said they found in the study planning for grocery shopping is done by the majority, with 87 percent of the millennials included in the study responding they make some sort of list.

Costagli said these list making shoppers fell into four different categories:

• The first being ones that plan to purchase a specific item and it’s a consumer who is not open to change.

“This is what we really see older generations following,” he said. “They are planning to buy a very particular brand of milk, fat level or size, and they really aren’t open to choosing something else on the shelf. They want the item they came in to the store to buy.”

• The second group, Costagli said plans to purchase items — they know they want to buy specific milk, but are open to change.

“This is really where we see the millennial shoppers falling,” he said. “Consumers that come in thinking they want to buy one particular thing and there might be a myriad of reasons why they choose to go a different direction.”

• The third category are those that plan to buy milk, but as far as what milk they actually buy, they are not making that decision until they are actually at the store.

“I call them Wild West shoppers,” he said. “These are consumers/shoppers that retailers and manufacturers actually have to win while at the shelf.”

• The fourth category are those who had a completely unplanned purchase.

“This could be driven by the fact they walked the aisles, saw a new product, it grabbed their interest and they end up putting it into their basket,” he said.

Costagli said if the focus on those millennials who are those consumers who are planning to buy a specific item, but who are also open to change, there’s some things to think about.

“How does the impact of variety on the shelf play into this? How does the impact of innovation – having new products on shelves play into this? And what’s the role of out of stocks? If millennial consumers are coming in and open to buying other products and all of a sudden see a cool, new innovation on the shelves this could get them to change what they are buying,” he said. “There’s much to think about when it comes to hitting and capturing these consumers who are planners, but who are also open to deviate from that plan.”

The store

Costagli said when they looked at the reasons millennial shoppers are choosing to shop at specific stores the three main reasons were price, convenience and in store experience.

“Everyone wants to have a good price they are paying, having a convenient shopping experience is always good and of course, we want to have a pleasurable experience while shopping,” he said.

The “click and collect” form of shopping didn’t seem to be all that popular for the millennial generation.

“I found that interesting, that there is a lot of interest in the industry behind it, but when it comes to buying milk, we are not seeing that,” he said. “When it comes to actually shopping at a physical store versus going online, millennials enjoy the act of actually going to the physical store and this is especially true for younger millennials.”

Costagli said this could be true for a variety of reasons.

“Perhaps it is because they haven’t been shopping for as many years and maybe the novelty of going to the store, waiting in line and doing all of that hasn’t quite worn off yet? But, we also know that millennials benefit from simply walking the aisles. It helps them remember what they need, but also, it’s a discovery component. Finding new products they weren’t aware of. Inspiration — again, seeing something and being able to craft a different meal because you found products you haven’t expected.”

Costagli said millennials could also enjoy being social by physically going shopping.

“Other research I have seen, talks about millennials and they feel lonely relative to other generations because they grew up with smart phones and with tablets and the socialization component of going to the store might be appealing,” he said.

As “click and collect” shopping becomes more mainstream and as technology improves it could become more popular.

“As we are able to do more home delivery with perishable products, and we get over the barriers, especially around freshness, refrigeration and product quality, I think we will start to see more consumers warming to this,” he said. “I think it will be the millennial generation that will do this and for generations yet to come — when it comes to seeing greater and greater adoption of online purchasing for perishable products.”

The timing of when millennials are likely to be in the store shopping is also important.

“It tends to be more so in the evening and more so during the week,” he said. “I think that really points to how critical it is for a product to be in stock. We know this group is open to changing what they are purchasing, so if a particular brand or product is baron on the shelf, there is a good chance this shopper is going to choose something else. They may choose to stick with the dairy category; they may choose to go elsewhere.”

As far as prices of dairy products, Costagli said they found the millennial consumers are a little less deal dependent when it comes to buying milk.

“This could really be due in part because millennials are more likely to have kids in their households and for any parent that runs out of milk, you realize that isn’t an option. ‘I need this for my children, so I have to go to the store and buy it regardless if it is on sale or if it’s at full price,'” he said.

How can some of those needs be applied?

Costagli said now that we know millennials are going to the store during the week and in the evenings; can we make that shopping trip even easier for those consumers?

“Can we have meal solutions close to the milk section so when consumers are going to the evening trip to buy milk, how can we help with the dinner component at the same time,” he said.

Keeping children entertained could also enhance the millennial’s shopping experience.

“Making shopping interesting for kids, I think, is critical. Entertainment in stores, small carts to push around – ways to engage kids to make sure their experience is positive because if their experience is positive, it will be a better experience for the parents as well,” he said.

Also, making the shopping trip convenient is key.

“Maybe offer milk in multiple locations around the store,” he said. “If you have to run into the store for just a couple of things you may not want to go to a big retailer. That is more effort. You have to walk across the store to get this or that. If we have milk in multiple locations, it might make the convenience of buying that category a little bit simpler.”

“Millennials are a prime audience for growing dairy sales,” Sheets said.

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