Garland Perkins, The Oppenheimer Group
Garland Perkins, The Oppenheimer Group

During early February’s Fresh Produce and Floral Council luncheon, Phil Lempert, the Supermarket Guru, defined millennials as “the new commanders of food.”

With our buying power growing each year and baby boomers increasingly cutting back on their retail expenditures, his moniker seems to be an accurate description.

One area where we are making a noticeable impact? The kitchen.

These days 18- to 34-year-olds are cooking often — and we’re excited about it. The composition of the American household has dramatically changed and as a result, millennials emerged with a sincere interest in food and how it is prepared.

For example, women entering the workforce led to an absence of cooking education in the home. Instead of learning skills from their parents, millennials now use a variety of technological resources as their cooking instructors, including YouTube, food blogs and mobile apps, to name a few.

Experimenting with unique combinations and discovering the ethnic origin or health attributes of meal components, as well as the social nature of food preparation, are all ways in which young adults express an interest in the culinary scene.

According to The Boston Consulting Group, members of Generation Y are more apt to love cooking and to consider themselves experts in the kitchen compared to non-millennials.

Many also call themselves foodies and strive to make meals at home worthy of restaurant fare, often with a foreign twist.

In fact, a study conducted by Dawn Food Products found nearly half of millennial primary grocery shoppers feel it is important for a grocery store to offer exotic foods, which makes sense considering sales of specialty foods have reached unprecedented highs in the past few years.

Perhaps this curiosity in global cuisine stems from growing up with multiple generations under one roof (minorities comprise the bulk of multigenerational households in the U.S., and millennials are the most racially and ethnically diverse generation to date) or experiencing four to five years of college life where ethnic eateries and campus food courts with customizable buffets are common.

Regardless, these preferences are also affecting the produce department, where exotic fruits such as mangoes are experiencing notable growth with mango purchasers increasing from 35% in 2007 to 46% in 2011, according to the Orlando, Fla.-based National Mango Board.

Meals eaten at home, along with recipe use, have also increased in recent years. Nearly 50% of millennials, or 30 million people, use recipes once a week or more (according to The NPD group, a marketing research firm).

In the future this enthusiasm for cooking combined with concerns for their health and the environment will likely bode well for the produce industry as Gen Y’ers opt for fruits, vegetables and nutritious food items with a focus on sustainability and social responsibility.

Compared to their parents, many millennials already feel they eat healthier, more natural and organic foods, and the consumption patterns of their younger cohorts also appear to be changing for the better.

A recent survey by the American College Health Association found students are eating more servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

While the implications of these trends are optimistic overall, there are still millions of millennials that have yet to obtain a thorough knowledge of fruits and vegetables, let alone cooking.

However, millennials who feel less confident in the kitchen are more apt to take the “do it yourself” attitude associated with this generation. No longer will they turn to their home economics teacher or parent for guidance.

A simple Google search or YouTube tutorial will do the trick, and, in the end, one can only hope produce plays a central role in their culinary creation.

Garland Perkins writes a monthly column on the produce industry from the millennial perspective. She works in sales and marketing for The Oppenheimer Group in its Los Angeles office.

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