Businesses looking to appeal to millennials need to consider more than just their ingredients. They should be thinking seriously about the environmental impact of their products, their commitment to an ethical supply chain, and the sustainability of their packaging. Since a failure to do so could result in a significant loss in revenue from this demographic. Investment in the right training to bring operations up to standard could be a very wise move.
The importance millennials place on ethical sourcing and high environmental standards has been quantified on numerous occasions by studies and consumer surveys spanning various countries, showing this is a truly international trend.
A 2017 study from the not-for-profit consultancy Ethical Consumer revealed that the UK market for ethical products and services is now worth around £81.3 billion, having risen in value by around £40 billion since 2008. The ethical food and drink market alone was up by 9.7 per cent, compared to a 5.3 per cent growth rate in 2015.
The evidence suggests that this rise is being driven largely by the younger generation, with YouGov data showing that in the past year alone, the proportion of 18 to 24-year-olds turning to vegetarianism for environmental or welfare reasons has increased from nine to 19 per cent. This is also being reflected in the US, with a survey of 1,500 American consumers by the Culinary Visions Panel revealing that consumers younger than 35 cared more than any other demographic about responsible food and drink practices.
The US report also revealed that 76 per cent of millennials believe ethical efforts make restaurants trendy, while 67 per cent said they would be willing to pay more for ethically produced food from vendors. This demonstrates that businesses catering to this demand potentially stand to see reputational and financial benefits.
In order to get ahead of this trend, food companies need to understand the areas of change that millennials want to see, over which they should expect to be held accountable.
A 2016 Nielsen analysis from the US indicated that around 80 per cent of millennials are keen to learn more about how their food is produced, and to get a glimpse behind the scenes at the production process; meanwhile, 51 per cent said they check packaging labels to ensure the products offer a positive social and environmental impact, with around one-third seeing organic and fair trade food as highly desirable.
Meanwhile, a survey of 1,000 millennials conducted by the Shelton Group last year revealed that young adult consumers are looking to businesses to adopt greener manufacturing policies, potentially by reducing the amount of packaging they use, or by modifying their methods to minimise the impact on water and air quality.
The overwhelmingly consistent consensus of these various studies shows that millennials are very clear about what they expect from their food and the organisations involved in producing it. Now, it falls on the businesses themselves to step up and deliver.
For organisations that have never invested seriously in environmental training before, making this shift can be a complex process. It's unquestionably an essential one, not just due to the expectations of millennial customers, but also from a basic business ethics perspective.
All food service companies need to be prepared to overhaul their environmental and sustainability policies, and provide their staff with the learning and development opportunities necessary to help them get to grips with better, more efficient ways of working. This could mean educating them on day-to-day responsibilities such as proper waste disposal, sustainable water use and energy conservation, or on more complex topics such as ethical sourcing and recipe formulation.
Many of these goals will involve long-term commitments, based on the fact that environmental standards tend to evolve as regulations change and methodologies are updated. Providing staff with ongoing access to the latest e-learning materials will allow them to keep on top of these changes, helping the organisation to continue being seen as a leader in this field, rather than a trend-chaser.
After all, when it comes to environmental protection and business ethics, sincerity is crucial. A food business shouldn't be looking to use sustainability as a millennial marketing ploy. Only by making a sincere ethical commitment can organisations achieve the kind of authenticity that millennials will actually respond to.
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