January 27, 2019

3 Crucial Millennial CPG Trends to Know

When brands start doing market research and analyzing populations to learn how to better reach their customers, they all reach the same conclusion: Millennials are where it’s at.

Millennials (a generational cohort loosely defined as those born between 1981 and 1996) have a firm foothold in the consumer market, with well-established buying power across the entire consumer spectrum. Reports indicate that Millennials have global buying power of $170 to $200 billion each year.

And the same holds true for consumer-packaged goods (CPG). Research shows that consumers will spend a cool $65 billion on CPGs alone over the next 10 years. This presents a big opportunity for CPG brands that know how to tap into these consumers’ minds.

A warning for brands marketing to Millennials

Before we go any further, we must issue a warning: CPG brands need to be careful about how they market to this group.

Much of the seemingly well-known assumptions about Millennial shopping behaviors don’t hold up under actual scrutiny. This is explained well in Mediapost’s above rundown, including the comments made by Eric Pakurar, Chief Strategy Officer for Geometry Global North America.

In his comments, he warns of “many traps CPG marketers can unknowingly fall into if they make decisions by only referencing generalized information or trends about Millennials. When we took a close look at Millennials’ shopping behavior in CPG categories, we found that very few widely-believed assumptions about Millennials held up…This research showed us how critical it is to examine the life stage and shopping goal—such as the categories they’re shopping for—to understand or predict their shopping behavior.

But of course, the entire point of generation cohorts (as Pew Research described in the link above) is to give researchers a way to analyze changes in views, opinions, and perspectives over time. Assumptions are unavoidable to a certain extent.

With all of that in mind, we’ve tried to pin down a few Millennial CPG trends that retailers can take home—particularly in how they structure their packaging design.

1. Price is still big

This is an unfortunate reality that we must get out of the way. Packaging, marketing, environmental consciousness—all of this matters, but price point still matters most. According to 2018 research by CouponFollow, Millennials are price-conscious, yet they struggle with saving:

  • 80 percent either “strictly” or “moderately” adhere to budgets when shopping;
  • 54 percent hold some form of credit card debt;
  • 45 percent have less than $500 in personal savings.

However, food and drink remains one of the top areas that Millennials are willing to invest in:

  • 60 percent said they spent the biggest portion of their budgets on food and drink in 2017, and 42 percent predicted they would do the same in 2018

We get it that most brands can’t compete on price—nor should they. Just keep in mind that, for Millennial shoppers, environmental consciousness or locally-sourced production won’t hold a candle to a reasonably-priced product.

2. Consumers prefer brands that share their values

Here’s a Millennial CPG trend that any brand can get behind: Millennials prefer brands that share their values.

Millennials tend to be more socially-conscious than previous generations, and they tend to be more tech savvy. What this means for retailers is that Millennials have more insight into the way brands operate, and they’re willing to support the brands that meet their expectations.

Research suggests that 7 in 10 Millennials consider a brand’s values when purchasing. This means their public commitments to environmental consciousness, sustainability, worker fairness, and locally-sourced products throughout the supply chain. Overall, Millennials demand unprecedented corporate accountability.

And given that so many shopping decisions are made at the point of purchase, we need to consider how a company can reinforce these ideals with its packaging.

Many brands are going the route of sharing their company stories on their packaging designs, which is a good first step. But lip service is only the beginning. Making them aware of your ideals certainly matters, but consumers will react more to tangible benefits that make them feel like they’re making a contribution by going with your brand over a competitor. Here are some quick examples:

  • Including strong seals in plastic bags that let shoppers use only what they need and save the rest for later
  • Eliminating “bag-in-box” packaging and overall reducing packaging clutter and waste
  • Investing more to create innovative packaging that helps differentiate a product on the store shelf, such as a snack chip company moving away from the classic seven-layer foil and plastic bags

3. Increased focus on visual distinction

Naturally, visual appeal is a cornerstone of packaging design. But for Millennial shoppers, visual appeal from the store shelf to the plate is absolutely essential.

This is because Millennials are one of the first generations to leverage social sharing on sites like Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat as aspects of daily life. It doesn’t really matter what they’re doing—when they’re socially-focused, any moment can be selfie- or Snap-worthy.

And for those familiar with these sites, we don’t need to tell you that food is one of most pervasive themes. Millennials treat food production (food planning, preparation, and presentation) as a social experience. They post recipes for inspiration. They post clips of themselves preparing it. And when it’s done, they post photos of the finished product.

Research shows (and oh yes, there is plenty of research on this) that 60 percent of Millennials post photos of food purchases while in the store and that 69 percent post photos before they eat.

CPG companies can play into these trends. Obviously, your packaging needs to have visual appeal—but “plate appeal” is equally important. After all, packaging is what drives purchases, but it’s product quality that creates lifelong brand advocates.

Mastering Millennial CPG Trends

As we noted in our above warning, you can’t generalize with your marketing. Millennials are too big of a group and too diverse in their perspectives. But that’s okay.  Marketing isn’t about learning everything in one swoop. It’s about keeping an open mind and examining how all the pieces connect. Hopefully, this rundown helped you accomplish this and gave you things to think about in terms of how your packaging is put together—for both Millennial audiences and the public as a whole.


by Kevin Smith
SmashBrand helps brands create, optimize, and launch successful products, services, and customer experiences. Our data-driven process is the key to accelerating sales and minimizing risks.

We use a strategic combination of market research, design, and consumer testing to solve complex brand problems more effectively, create differentiation, and forge more meaningful connections with customers.

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