Millennial Mysteries Revealed

Segmentation uncovers diverse tastes, divergent attitudes

Why We Can Finally Understand What Millennials Want

The largest generation of consumers is also the most complicated. More diverse than previous generations,1 they also span an age range defined by perpetual change; while some millennials are students who still depend on their parents, others are accomplished professionals already raising children of their own.

Marketing to millennials means marketing to a generation of individuals; yet, until now, marketers in the food and beverage (F&B) and restaurant industries have been forced to make do with a surface-level understanding of this dominant age group. The word “millennial” itself is ubiquitous—you can’t open an industry newsletter without seeing it splashed across several headlines—but, as long as researchers treat millennials as a monolith, we fail to gain insights specific enough to be truly actionable.

That’s all about to change.

Enter GenerationWhy, an unprecedented consumer research study that dives deeper into millennials’ attitudes and behaviors than any other resource available. GenerationWhy is a custom study commissioned by the Corn Refiners Association. Respondents for the quantitative survey phase of the study were provided by Ipsos. Millennial participants in the qualitative phase were sourced through BuzzFeed.

Meet the Millennials

GenerationWhy decoded the behaviors and attitudes of 1,001 millennials, comprising 501 “younger millennials” (ages 18–24) and 500 “older millennials” (ages 25–34). The study also surveyed 250 Generation Xers and 250 baby boomers. From the data, researchers were able to determine characteristic differences between younger and older millennials, as well as identify four distinct lifestyle segments of millennial consumers, each with their own unique demographics, digigraphics and attitudes toward food products and ingredients.

Our Cast of Characters

Traditionalist Taylor 37%

DemographicsOf the millennials surveyed, 37 percent belong to the lifestyle segment “Traditionalist Taylor,” making her the largest segment.2 Taylor is the type of person some might refer to as “basic.” She’s likely female, white and suburban, and she represents the segment most likely to be single, without kids.

DigigraphicsLike most millennials, Taylor has a Web presence, but she spends less time on social media than the other segments and has less influence. In fact, 57 percent of consumers in Taylor’s segment have fewer than 300 followers on social media.3 Knowing that millennials aren’t uniformly glued to computers and mobile devices, marketers shouldn’t overestimate Taylor’s social media engagement.

Food AttitudesWhen it comes to food, Taylor is, well, a traditionalist. She doesn’t have an adventurous palate, and she’s the least health conscious of all the segments. Taylor also dines out the least, spending 74 percent of her food and beverage budget on groceries.4

Bon Vivant Brittany 28%

Demographics“Bon Vivant Brittany” comprises 28 percent of surveyed millennials.5 As her name suggests, Brittany likes to live “the good life.” She’s likely female and skews younger than average. She lives in an urban area and is ethnically diverse.

DigigraphicsBrittany favors Facebook and Instagram when spending time on social media, but she spends less than 20 hours on social media per week across an average of 2.4 platforms. For comparison, the most connected segment spends nearly 30 hours on social media per week across an average of 3.5 platforms.6 As with Taylor, marketers should realistically assess how engaged Brittany is on social media.

Food AttitudesFor Brittany, “the good life” means dining out … a lot. She spends only 38 percent of her food and beverage budget on groceries, dividing the rest among restaurants and bars, vending machines and convenience stores, takeout meals and food-delivery services.7 “The good life” also means little to no avoidance of specific food products and ingredients. If Brittany wants something, she lets herself have it.

Food Purist Paige 19%

DemographicsPaige makes up 19 percent of millennials surveyed.8 Like Taylor, Paige is likely to be female, white and suburban, but she’s more likely than either Taylor or Brittany to be married with kids.

DigigraphicsWhen it comes to social media, Paige knows what she’s interested in and what she isn’t. Representing the segment most apt to access the Web from a mobile device, Paige likes to use social media to access perks and deals. However, she says social media doesn’t impact her opinions about brands, food products and ingredients.

Food AttitudesPaige isn’t easy to influence, and her attitudes are the most dogmatic of any segment. She’s more interested in preparing a healthy meal for her family at home than she is in dining out. Additionally, she’s more likely than the other segments to report avoidance of fast food, soda, sugar and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). However, HFCS isn’t Paige’s primary concern: Only 5 percent of consumers in this segment reported avoiding HFCS in an unaided response, compared to 34 percent who reported avoiding sugars in general.9

Balance-Seeker Brad 16%

Demographics“Balance-Seeker Brad,” who accounts for 16 percent of millennials surveyed,10 stands out from the crowd. Of the four segments, Brad is the most likely to be male, the most ethnically diverse and the most likely to live in an urban area. Brad also skews older and has the highest education and income levels. In fact, Brad is almost twice as likely as the other segments to have an annual household income of $50,000 or more.11

DigigraphicsBrad is a social media maven. He spends the most time on social media of any segment and splits his time among the largest number of social media platforms. He is the most influential—72 percent of consumers in Brad’s segment have 300 or more followers—and the most inclined to post regularly about food and beverages or brands and products.12

Food AttitudesBrad is also the segment most apt to dine out, spending only 33 percent of his food budget on groceries.13 Although consumers in Brad’s segment are the most likely to follow a number of specific food plans—including vegetarian, gluten-free and diabetic diets—they are also the most prone to focus on a healthy balance, instead of having a dogmatic attitude about food products and ingredients.

Which consumers matter most?Here are some immediate insights to keep in mind as we delve deeper into the research.

Social Science

Social media plays a large part in the lives of both “Food Purist Paige” and “Balance-Seeker Brad,” but the two most connected segments use social media very differently. Only Brad turns to social media for answers when considering the healthfulness of a food ingredient or product. Brad is also more likely to post about brands and companies, whether positive or negative, whereas Paige primarily connects with brands over social media in order to take advantage of perks and deals.

Another difference is that Brad is generally more of a “power player” than Paige on social media. While Paige spends only 19.7 hours per week on social media, Brad spends 29.8 hours, which is more than an extra hour every day of the week. All those hours pay off when it comes to Brad’s online clout: Nearly one in five consumers in Brad’s segment has more than 2,000 social followers.14

Although Brad represents the smallest segment of the study, his influence shouldn’t be underestimated. Representing 18 percent of millennial consumers, Brad accounts for nearly 15 million Americans; and, as social media heavy hitters, American consumers in Brad’s segment influence many millions of other followers.15

The numbers are impressive, but they aren’t the only reason marketers should pay attention to Brad. In addition to being more engaged with and more influential on social media than Paige, Brad is also more likely to post about foods and beverages. Whereas only 16 percent of consumers in Paige’s segment say at least four in 10 of their posts are about foods and beverages, 37 percent of consumers in Brad’s segment dedicate at least that many posts to the subject of foods and beverages.16

Dining Out and Logging On The segments most likely to dine out—“Balance-Seeker Brad” and “Bon Vivant Brittany”—share a number of traits: They are the most educated, the most apt to live in an urban area and the most ethnically diverse. When it comes to social media habits, however, Brad and Brittany could hardly be more different. Brad spends more time on social media, across more platforms, interacting with followers. He’s more influential, more likely to be influenced by social media and more inclined to post about foods and beverages. This makes consumers in Brad’s segment ideal for influencer-based marketing efforts.

Millennials Aren’t Concerned About HFCS

Although varied in their attitudes toward health and social media, millennials generally agree about food ingredients. When asked what specific food products and ingredients they avoid, millennials of all ages total sugars highest, with soda and sodium trailing behind.17 In fact, sugar, soda and sodium comprise the top three avoided food products and ingredients across generations, with baby boomers representing the only variation, ranking sodium second and soda third.

Following the trend of diminishing HFCS concerns in the general population, millennials are less concerned about HFCS than are previous generations. Across generations, consumers are nearly five times more concerned about total sugars than specific sweetening ingredients,18 and millennials are nearly seven times more concerned about total sugars.19

Consumers across generations also agree that taste and price are the most important factors when deciding what to buy. In a recent survey, 54 percent of consumers of all ages ranked taste are their most critical purchase driver, and 49 percent named price at the top of their list.20 GenerationWhy replicated this finding, as taste and price both appeared among the top critical purchase drivers for all four segments.21

Clearly, “Balance-Seeker Brad” is onto something, as consumers in general and millennials in particular continue to pursue a more “mindful” approach to health and well-being, rather than embracing a dogmatic attitude.

Balance Seekers, Unite “Balance-Seeker Brad” embodies the mindful attitude that’s becoming more prevalent among consumers across segments and generations. “Mindfulness” represents an awareness and thoughtfulness about food and eating habits. The mindful consumer focuses on balance, without fixating on any single ingredient or food product as the sole determinant for healthier eating. As consumers in Brad’s segment and beyond continue to spread mindfulness through social media and other platforms of influence, marketers can benefit by adapting an equally mindful approach, considering the nuanced attitudes and behaviors exhibited by consumers across generations.

Where Do We Go from Here?

GenerationWhy marks a turning point. For the first time ever, marketers in the F&B and restaurant industries can leverage segment-specific insights to make smarter business decisions based on a fuller, more complex understanding of millennial consumers. By focusing influencer-marketing efforts on the right consumers, companies can achieve a bigger bang for their buck; and it’s clear that millennials, especially those in Brad’s segment, have a lot of influence to lend. It’s also important for marketers to distinguish between consumers who can be influenced through social media engagement, such as Brad, and consumers whose opinions aren’t easily swayed, such as Paige.

The results are in and the message is clear: More than any previous generation, millennials represent a powerful group of individual consumers, each with their own unique tastes, preferences, attitudes and behaviors. Despite their idiosyncrasies, however, millennials—and indeed consumers of all ages—continue to embrace a more mindful approach to health, rather than fixating on any single ingredient or food product as the sole determinant for healthier eating.

To learn more about millennial consumers, sign up for a free presentation on the complete findings of GenerationWhy.

Sign Up Now

Download PDF Version Here


1Annalyn Kurz and Tal Yellin, “Millennial Generation Is Bigger, More Diverse Than Boomers,” CNN Money, (accessed February 11, 2016).

2GenerationWhy is a custom study commissioned by the Corn Refiners Association. Respondents for the quantitative survey phase of the study were provided by Ipsos. Millennial participants in the qualitative phase were sourced through BuzzFeed.













15“Millennials Outnumber Baby Boomers and Are Far More Diverse, Census Bureau Reports,” United States Census Bureau, (accessed February 11, 2016).

16GenerationWhy is a custom study commissioned by the Corn Refiners Association. Respondents for the quantitative survey phase of the study were provided by Ipsos. Millennial participants in the qualitative phase were sourced through BuzzFeed.


18Sweetener360; Mintel Consulting and Nielsen, 2014.



21GenerationWhy is a custom study commissioned by the Corn Refiners Association. Respondents for the quantitative survey phase of the study were provided by Ipsos. Millennial participants in the qualitative phase were sourced through BuzzFeed.