The nearly 20 million 18- to 20-year-olds who are currently attending college are developing distinct culinary preferences that will influence the food industry for decades to come, according to a new report from market research publisher Packaged Facts and food and beverage strategic innovations agency CCD Innovation.
“The college environment, with its campus food courts, self-serve bars and convenience stores -- along with plenty of nearby cheap, global eats -- offers students an exceptional opportunity to experience new foods, flavor profiles and eating styles,” explains CCD Innovation CEO Kimberly Egan. “Palates expand in college and are forever altered. The food industry will need to respond to these adventurous consumers as they leave campus and start earning their own paychecks.”
CCD Innovation conducted quantitative online studies with college students from several colleges nationwide during late 2011 and spring 2012. The “Collegiate Gen Y Eating: Culinary Trend Mapping Report” identifies four major needs and seven culinary behaviors among students.
The “needs”: powerful nutrition, flavorful food, comfort and indulgence, and speed and convenience.
The culinary behaviors/preferences:
*Dining along the meatless spectrum: More students are aligning themselves along the less-meat to meatless spectrum, from “flexitarian” to vegetarian to vegan and even raw diets.
*The mighty chickpea: Students’ diets incorporate this inexpensive, versatile, packed-with-protein legume in myriad ways.
*Nut butters, the “protein pal”: Although Gen Y students grew up in a climate of peanut distrust due to the increase in children’s allergies, college students today have embraced peanut butter’s protein power along with that of other nut butters, especially almond.
*Fruit and vegetable discovery: College students are discovering a “whole new world” of fruits and vegetables as they encounter expansive salad bars, unfamiliar vegetable side dishes and unusual vegan and vegetarian fare on campus. Friends, restaurants and student retail haunts like Trader Joe’s introduce them to new dried fruit snacks, to-go salads and produce-centric beverages.
*Asian love affair: Younger Millennials have indeed grown up eating global cuisine, but this research shows that many continue the discovery process in college, thanks to dining halls and nearby ethnic restaurants. While flavor is the primary driver, the vegetarian and customization possibilities, as well as the ample vegetable servings, also attract students.
*Italian and Mexican offer comfort: Given the stresses of college, students also sometimes want comfort in the form of familiar, warm and filling foods. Italian and Mexican cuisines perfectly fit that bill.
*On-the-go fare: The phrases students consistently use in regard to their “go-to” foods include: “easy to make,” “portable,” “eat quickly” and “eat as I walk to class.”