Millennials: an opportunity for the fruit and vegetable industry

By Juan Herrera Arenas Food journalist

It is today’s most influential generation, but also the one that will mark the future of the coming decades. We’re talking about Generation Y, also known as millennials. These are young people who reached adulthood at the turn of the millennium, that is, in the year 2000, and who have experienced the most relevant changes in our society at the beginning of this 21st century.

Well educated, interested in health and the environment, non-conformists with access to enormous amounts of information and closely attached to new technologies, these youngsters are strong players and are leaving a mark on all areas of life, including consumer habits, on all levels, including agri-food in general and fruit and vegetables, in particular. They therefore represent a new way of buying and consuming products that suit their tastes and pace of life.

The profile of millennial shoppers

  • They have access to information and nearby examples that guide them when making purchases, minimising risks.
  • They justify their choices.
  • They look for real benefits from products.
  • They discuss and think about what you suggest to them.
  • They appreciate sincere, direct discussions.
  • They have learned from their parents’ experience with the crisis. It’s best to live within your means.
  • They are not wasteful, and most of them save in case of future economic instability.
  • They know what they want, and they aren’t prepared to give it up.

How do millennials buy fruit and vegetables?

Although it may not seem so at first sight, the way that this generation buys fruit and vegetables is not really different from the way that previous generations have bought them. According to a recent study conducted by the AECOC association of manufacturers and distributors, only 13% of them buy fruit and vegetables online, that is in online stores, a similar percentage shop in organic stores, co-ops or buy directly from suppliers.

This means that supermarkets and hypermarkets are still ahead of the game when it comes to fruit and vegetable sales, although an increasing number of people are going back to their roots and looking for local product, reflected in growing sales in specialised local retailers and traditional markets and street markets. They also like personal service when they shop, a hallmark of the millennial shopper.

But young people also like to touch and try fruit before deciding to buy, and although they are open to professional advice, they like making up their own minds. This explains why, according to a study conducted by AECOC, 79% of millennials prefer self service shopping, choosing their own fruits and vegetables to take home. It also gives them the opportunity, in a society where everything moves so fast, to shop more quickly, avoiding queues, and more conveniently.

What products do they demand?

This haste that characterises young people is undoubtedly reflected in the type of products they choose to take home. For most millennials, fresh products (like fruit and vegetables) are among the most difficult challenges they face in the supermarket. It is also a genre that requires time, effort and expertise to prepare, requirements that many young people are not willing to meet, although most of them prefer to buy ingredients and make their own food. Of course, they don’t want anything too complicated or to waste too much time doing it.
That’s why the products achieving success in this segment are easy to handle and practical to consume: IV range products, like ready-to-eat salads, easy-to-eat fruit like applies and bananas and traditional vegetables, like tomatoes and onions. Experts in agri-food marketing say that fresh, cut products, clean and ready to eat, supplied in individual portions are the most attractive option for this type of audience.



Then there are juices, like smoothies and fruit and vegetable shakes, an extremely attractive way of getting your ‘five-a-day’, the five portions of fruit and vegetables that the Association for the Promotion of Fruit and Vegetable Consumption recommends. The sector has also adapted to the needs and tastes of consumers and the market, evolving from a simple squeezed fruit into innovative, healthy drinks, enriched with new functions.

‘Healthy’ movement

All this is part of the health trend that has certainly had a beneficial effect on the fruit and vegetable sector. It’s no coincidence that the reasons why youngsters choose to eat these products is that they want the health benefits. They know how important it is to get nourishment from their food. “Things are good for fruit and vegetables now that Spanish people are keen to take better care of themselves and stay physically fit”, says Ricardo Alarcón, head of new business at Nielsen.
Despite this, only four in ten millennials consume fruit and vegetables daily. “They way to increase this figure is to communicate the health benefits”, says the manager of the Agri-food chain of AECOC, Maite Arrizabalaga, who points to the price per kilo and seasonal products as key aspects for boosting consumption data.

When the data is analysed, it also has a positive aspect. Although only 37% of young people consume fresh fruit and vegetables daily at home, the figure increases to 86% in terms of weekly consumption. In addition, 87% of millennials buy these products at least once a month.

Opposed to waste

A dislike of waste is one of the reasons for low daily consumption. According to the AECOC report, 39% of young people say that they don’t buy more because food goes bad at home, and women say they would consume 43% more if the products had a longer useful life. That’s why they buy small amounts to avoid letting food go bad, particularly perishable fruit and vegetables.

Another deterrent against buying this type of food is the packaging, and its presentation in the aisles. This segment of the population is concerned about sustainability and highly environmentally conscious, which makes them demanding when it comes to packaging. Most of them prefer the produce to be displayed directly on the shelves (in bulk) or cardboard or wood containers rather than plastic, since they associate the former with sustainability which directly benefits the environment. Because they are kinder to the environment, they enhance the product image better than any other alternative.

“The sector must make greater efforts to use more ecological, recyclable and environmentally friendly packaging which lengthens the useful life of fresh produce and can be printed with information for consumers”, says the president of the Spanish Association of Manufacturers of Corrugated Cardboard Packaging (AFCO) .”

In short, millennials are an extremely important target with enormous potential for the fruit and vegetable segment, and companies need to take advantage of this, taking into account and respecting four main premises.
Firstly, they need to communicate more and better, since this audience wants information about the health benefits of these types of products. Individual formats should be offered in smaller packages that allow savings and prevent food waste. The type of packaging also needs to change, to answer young people’s concerns about sustainability and to have less impact on the environment, opting for cardboard and wood rather than plastic.

In addition, millennials are pragmatic without wanting to sacrifice nature, which is why they want more local, organic and biological products at the same price. They also demand information at the point of sale through leaflets that include preparation tips, recipes, etc.
All these measures will boost consumption by adapting to a more hectic pace of life and taking advantage of the ‘health wave’. Now is the time!