Meet the Millennials

The Future a la Mode

Breakfast for dinner is now a thing all across Canada. McDonald’s Canada rolled out its all-day breakfast option at the end of February, and is banking on the change to provide the same bump in traffic and same store sales as in the U.S.

John Betts, McDonald’s Canada CEO, suggested that the introduction of the program was driven partly by social media and Twitter requests by the thousands from customers for all-day breakfast since its launch in the U.S.

meet millenials insert 2And who are those tweeting customers? The Millennials, of course. Younger millennials in particular – also known as ‘trailing millennials’ – are changing the game in foodservice. An extensive ongoing tracking study by Ipsos Canada of eating habits of Canadians reveals that Millennials tend to eat “small meals through the day when it suits their needs.” Millennials seek food options that reflect their non-conventional lifestyle. According to the Ipsos study lead, “(Millennials) do things on their own time. They’ve never known ‘closed on Sundays,’ they shop when they want, they work – many of them – in situations that appease their need to have their own schedules.”

Foodservice operators – and not just the giants like McDonald’s – are taking notice and adapting to meet this expectation.

In Canada and the U.S., the Millennial Generation Y cohort is now as large as the Boomers. As a percentage of the labour force, GenY is already far and away the biggest group. These numbers speak volumes, and underscore the inevitability of demography in a “post-growth” 21st century.

In her book, “A Taste of Generation Yum: How the Millennial Generation’s Love for Organic Fare, Celebrity Chefs, and Microbrews Will Make or Break the Future of Food,” Eve Turow Paul, herself a Millennial, spent close to four years interviewing peers, reviewing academic work, and talking to iconic foodies like Anthony Bourdain and Michael Pollan.

The genesis for the book was an observation she made while sitting in a college class. “One of the girls across from me was saying that there was a frozen yogurt place (that had) flavours that changed every day. She had the number on her phone and would call them every day to see what the flavour (du jour) was.”

This observation was the catalyst for her research. Her chief takeaways?

meet millenials insert 1Top tips to engage Millennials

  • Make your brand their brand. Millennials are focused on personal brand-building. Try to make a connection between your offering and their personality.
  • Work your social media channels. The Millennials are likely the most social media- and tech-obsessed generation.
  • Consider your social conscience. Millennials are cause-focused, and they care about where their food comes from.
  • Make it memorable. Millennials are looking for “experiential” eating. Touch, taste, appearance help to sell food to them.

 meet millenials insert 3


Millennials are the most food-obsessed generation in history.

Newton’s 3rd Law states that for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. After all of that screen time on their smartphones and other devices, it’s not surprising that Millennials are looking for something tangible, genuine, and sensory. 


Generation Y is the product of the shock of colliding negative and positive factors.

The negative charges: political cynicism and sustained economic recession. On the positive side: ever expanding access to technology and information. The result is mixed and somewhat contradictory. Many studies have concluded that Millennials exhibit elevated rates of anxiety, depression, and even suicide. However, access to technology and social media provides Millennials with the sense of empowerment, community, and control they crave.


Turow Paul pulls no punches: “I think we need to make food something that Millennials want to be part of their brand. We need to make it hip. I don’t believe that this is a generation of people who just want to do good things; I think (Millennials) are self-serving and narcissistic. I think we’re really invested in branding ourselves.”

For Millennials, what and where they eat (or don’t eat) is as much a part of their identity as the social media sites they connect on. The labels Local, Organic, Gluten-free, GMO, Single-source, Bio-dynamic, Vegan, Cage-free, Paleo, Fair trade – have become powerful tags for this group.

Wondering how to better engage with the Millennial tribe? There is no silver bullet. According to Environics Analytics, the group is extremely diverse. Beyond the “Living at Home” and “Left Home” divide, there are upwards of a dozen unique cultural, ethnic, educational, value, and economic archetypes among Millennials.


The one commonality is technology. Smartphone ownership for Millennials is over 90% and significantly higher than for older Canadians. A Canadian tech startup called Ritual connecting foodservice operators, employers, and consumers, believes that they’ve developed the killer app to bring The Mountain to the Millennials through their devices.

The app has already expanded to New York City, selling its siren song of “Life as it should be” to Millennials, and promising a dividend of hours of time saved each week to spend on the important things in life. Successful operator partners are reputedly booking north of $100K via Ritual. Hard to argue with the Ritual folks when they ask, “What are you waiting for?”

For Millennials, the pull of Ritual is:

Order and pay directly from smartphones, when and where you want.

Pick up coffee or meal with ease – no time wasted, no extra cost, no lineups, no loose change, and no paper receipts.

The Ritual app partners with operators by neighbourhood, and becomes an active ‘foodservice concierge’ resource for users by learning their preferences and making informed suggestions.

Users earn loyalty and reward points for free eats.

Source: Statistics Canada
Darren Climans is a foodservice insights professional with close to 20 years' experience partnering with broadline distributors, CPG suppliers, and foodservice operators. His practice is to understand issue-based decisions by taking a data-driven approach to strategic decision making.