Funky, Finicky and Fabulous

Understanding the Gen Y food fetish

Issue: Oct 2010

Nandos food
Have the world, or maybe just the exotic, on a platter with Nando’s peri peri chicken
Photo credit: Nando’s

They are called any number of names – Generation Y, Gen Y or simply Millennials.

Recent studies show that this particular group of consumers, born any time between 1980 (the end of the disco era) and 2000 (the end of the millennia), are just what is driving food trends. Figure out what they want and marketers are well on their way to capturing the future.

But Gen Yers are an enigmatic lot. Tech-savvy, educated and forward-looking, they are notorious for wanting it and wanting it all.

Food Safari, Here I Come

Highly wired, highly connected and highly informed, Gen Yers have developed a global palate - the more exotic and far-flung the cuisine, the more exciting. This explains why Nando’s at Bugis Junction in Singapore is often packed with lines that lead well outside the restaurant during peak periods. The South African eatery featuring Portuguese-Mozambican food is a tribute to poultry since chicken features prominently on its menu. Specialising in flame-grilled chicken marinated with peri peri, a chilli indigenous to Africa, the outlet at Bugis Junction is its first in the country, bringing the number of countries Nando’s can be found to 34.

Duck Confit Burger
The duck confit burger at The Handburger offers the traditional French specialty of cured duck that is poached in its own fat as an alternative to the regular beef patty
Photo credit: The Handburger

Swensen’s savoury ice creams
These savoury ice creams are a food adventure with every bite
Photo credit: Swensen’s Singapore

If global fare rates high with Gen Yers, mixing cuisines rates even higher. Think Swiss rosti with Japanese curry or as in the case of The Handburger at Raffles City Singapore, tandoori chicken and duck confit burgers. Named because burgers are eaten with hands, this fast-food joint is part of the Soup Spoon franchise.

Hit Me With Your Best Shot

Forget the usual flavours. Never mind the regular textures. Gen Yers are thrill-seekers and food is all about experimenting with provocative flavours, layering tastes and textures, expecting the unexpected.

And putting a twist on taste must surely be the seven new flavours of ice cream Swensen’s launched in July. Seaweed Pistachio, Cinnamon Walnut, Peanut Butter Caramel, Salty Chewy Cornflakes, Sour Cream and Chives, Mushroom and Asparagus – they read like a savoury snack list but they are really Swensen’s latest offerings. Working in collaboration with Nanyang Polytechnic’s School of Chemical and Life Sciences, an ice-cream making competition was organised amongst secondary schools in Singapore. The winning entries became part of Swensen’s new menu.

Many of the savoury flavours are best enjoyed with garlic bread, croutons or crackers. Lovers of sour cream and onions flavoured potato chips might enjoy Sour Cream and Chives. If you delight in a steaming bowl of mushroom soup, Mushroom is like an icy cold cousin and Asparagus may yet be a new dip for your greens.

Yigloo yoghurt with toppings
Yigloo challenges customers to design their own yoghurt flavours by adding different toppings
Photo credit: Yigloo

I Did It My Way

Gen Yers are also used to getting their own way. Highly individualistic, they enjoy the freedom to customise their own food whether it’s mixing and matching, choosing their own toppings or sauces, or blending their own spices.

Perhaps that’s why frozen yoghurt store, Yigloo, has been capturing the imagination of its customers. Riding on the frozen yoghurt wave, this store ups the ante by allowing any number of free toppings. There are over 30 different toppings to choose from, separated into two categories: nuts and chocolate and fruits. You are limited only by your imagination and the size of the cup since no refills are allowed.

Good for the Body and Soul, Great on the Pocket

But lest you run away with the impression that Gen Yers are a hedonistic bunch bent on wild experimentations with food, they’ll surprise you yet. Healthy eating is high on their list. If it is good for the earth, that’s even better as this is a generation that prides itself on being socially responsible. Organic, vegetarian, fresh – these are what they expect of their food. And on this count, stores like Yigloo score high. Fat-free, guilt-free, it also fulfills another Gen Y criteria for food – it’s easy on the pocket. This is a generation that knows a good deal when it sees one.

Fuss-free, easy eats

And finally, Gen Yers are incorrigible snackers. A survey done by the Wharf Research Division of the Centre for Culinary Development in the US showed that 63 per cent of Gen Yers have a snack between 2pm and 5pm. The survey was conducted because Gen Y is an important batch of trend-setters and its spending power and longevity will make it a crucial group for food makers and marketers to court.

Gen Y snacks fit every thing the Gen Y eater is looking for – fast, fuss-free, fun. Ideally, a Gen Y snack has to be exciting to eat – popped, tossed or poured into the mouth, or even sucked through a straw. If it crackles, crunches, pops or snaps, it would be a bonus because a novel way of delivery and the noise all add to its fun factor.

The Generation Y food code is not hard to crack. But it may not be easy to satisfy. Yet given the fact that one in every five economically active Singaporean is a Gen Yer, marketers will do well to try.

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