It's no big secret, Americans are addicted to fast food. Whether it's curbside takeout or cruising through the drive-thru on our way to or from work, fast food is an easy fix. An estimated 90 percent of Americans would prefer not to cook and we're spending thousands of dollars on meals high in preservatives, sodium, and saturated fats every year. The food industry is changing though and it's largely due to the highly critical demands of millennial customers.
It's been 14 years since Super Size Me, the documentary that shed a light on the health dangers of McDonald's jumbo order upgrade initiative, came out and the fast food landscape isn't the same. Over the last 14 years, millennials entered young adulthood and many have abandoned unhealthy fast food items in favor of cleaner food. An astonishing 80 percent of millennials today haven't even tried McDonald's flagship burger, the Big Mac.
How Are Millennial Eating Habits Different Than Other Generations?
Let's not be mistaken however, millennial customers are definitely eating out, even more than their parents. According to a report from the US Department of Agriculture, millennials are having around 2.3 percent of their meals in a restaurant, compared to 1.8 percent of baby boomers and 1. 6 percent of gen X'ers. Naturally, this means that restaurants are putting a lot of focus on this younger customer base.
The restaurant industry is bending over backwards to win the food war for the millennial customer, rolling out everything from delivery apps to of course, changes in food prep.
"I think the millennial generation is much more demanding than prior generations, Nigel Travis, CEO of Dunkin' Donuts said.
Of course, ordering through apps is just the tip of the iceberg to how millennial customers are shifting the the food industry. The generation is demanding healthier options. It's no coincidence that "organic" has become such a buzz word in the 21st century. A 2015 survey from the International Food Information Council found that 54 percent of millennials say they have cut back on foods higher in solid fats and prefer organically grown ingredients.
Today's young adults are demanding greater integrity from their food. They've grown up in an era that places more focus on personal integrity and environmental values as evidenced by the boom in farm-to-table dinning. They're demanding more transparency in the process of how their food was grown.
Just look at Chipolte's 2010 "Food With Integrity" mission that highlighted its commitment to sustainable and humane practices . It helped the company soar past traditional fast food chains in the years that followed.
A Healthier Approach
While there is still no shortage of unhealthy options on fast food menus, we're seeing more heart and weight-friendly fare than ever before. After years of criticism and news reports linking fast food chains to the country's growing healthcare woes, more chains are beginning to offer healthier options. Who could have imagined that Kentucky Fried Chicken would sell grilled chicken?!
What's perhaps the most shocking difference of today's fast food landscape from 20 years ago is the presence of more plant-based options. With a staggering 40 percent of millennials at least trying to move to a more plant-based diet, more fast food chains are looking to adapt their menus.
Earlier this year, White Castle rolled out its Impossible Burger, challenging its patrons to try its vegan-friendly burger compared to a traditional beef burger, and had successful results.
"When we think about the customers of tomorrow, the younger generations, they have a lot more desire to seek variety and to really focus on quality and sustainability." Jamie Richardson, White Castle VP told Forbes.