Millennials get a lot of flack from Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers. Most regard this younger generation as lazy, narcissistic snowflakes in need of safe spaces.
But the truth of the matter is that millennials are the most socially aware and politically engaged generation in modern history.
According to the Brookings Institution, millennials are more interested in high quality of life than a high income. They care deeply about the quality of the air they breathe and the food they eat. They prefer recycling or re-using to buying new.
But when they make new purchases, nearly 90% of millennials choose socially and environmentally conscious companies and healthy, eco-friendly products.
So how do eco-polluting conglomerates with overly fatty foods compete in a market like this?
Convenience & Digital Presence
Ordering ahead of time to skip the line, mobile apps, digital rewards program, and Wendy’s world-renowned Twitter trolling. RBC stresses that if Burger King, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s are going to be competitive in the millennial market, they will have to up their digital and mobile games. And it appears that McDonald’s, at least, is attempting just that.
Using Fresher Ingredients
Millennials like their ingredients fresh.
Chipotle is a millennials’ favorite fast-food restaurant, according to a recent Nielsen survey. That’s primarily due to the Mexican chain’s substantial investment in high-quality ingredients rather than in TV ads and other advertisements.
With this tradeoff, they can afford to serve antibiotic-free meat and chop fresh veggies each day. Texas Roadhouse and Panera Bread are other Millennial success stories. Again, thanks to their investments in fresh ingredients and quality food.
Fast-food chains missing out on the millennial crowd see all this, and they’re starting to jump on the better-ingredient bandwagon.
Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. recently rolled out new chicken breasts free of artificial preservatives or additives. In 2016, McDonald’s began testing fresh hamburger patties and artificial preservative-free Chicken McNuggets in Portland.
Considering that 12% report being “faithful vegetarians”—compared to 4% of Generation X and 1% of Baby Boomers—more restaurants would be wise to offer more meatless options.
Engaging in Ethical Business Practices
The socially progressive politics and practices of chains like Starbucks and Chipotle put them in excellent standing with millennials. Meanwhile, establishments like McDonald’s—whose employees receive an inordinately large amount of public assistance, according to Bloomberg Businessweek— are often shunned.
An article in EcoWatch credits millennials for driving sustainable food practices. Panera Bread, Five Guys, and Chipotle are three fast-food chains that appeal to younger people due to their ethical and sustainable food practices and above-average employee wages.
More traditional fast food companies are being called out for unethical labor practices, questionable ingredients, and unsustainable food sources.
Do or Die
The fast-food industry is precariously poised on a precipice right now. And it’s only a matter of time before it becomes universally acknowledged that you’ve got to put the “food” back in fast food and play an ethical game. If you’re going to continue feeding millennials as they age and spawn a whole new generation of socially and environmentally responsible consumers, anyway.
Regardless of where it all leads, it’ll be interesting to watch the future of fast food unfold.