By Kelsey Casselbury 2016-09-27 17:45:36
Communications & Marketing Program Promotion 4120 To Your Credit Making the grade in your profession A new generation has arrived at your cafeteria door. But it’s their parents—the Millennials—that need your marketing magic. With every new year and new wave of kindergarteners, the school nutrition staff brace for changes. You never quite know how this group of students will respond to your program or how (or even if) their parents will support your efforts. Every other decade or so, though, there’s a generational shift that can catch you off guard, if you’re not expecting it. If you’re a...shall we say, “seasoned” veteran of school nutrition (and you know who you are), you remember when the Baby Boomers returned to school as parents in the 1980s and 1990s. They were followed by the Generation X and Y parents, who came through in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Now that we’re firmly into the 21st century, the Millennials—those who came of age right around the year 2000—are here. As they move from being students themselves to being the parents of the students, it might be time to readjust your strategy for getting a new generation of ’rents on board with school meals. After all, when it comes to your newest and most impressionable customers, it’s their parents who make the decisions that will affect your business. There’s no question that students of all ages influence such purchasing decisions, which is why children remain your primary target market. But if you think you can maximize participation potential only with attention to student taste- test results, creative food art and some clever Pokémon references, you may be disappointed by the number of brown bags and lunch boxes that dot the cafeteria tables. WHO ARE THE MILLENNIALS? Plenty of sociologists have attempted to define this U.S. generation, which follows Generation X and precedes Generation Z (aka, “The Founders” or “iGeneration”—no one is really sure which name will stick yet). For logistical purposes, we’re going with the definition given by the Pew Research Center, which defines Millennials as those born between 1980 and 2000, the first group of Americans to come of age in the new millennium. There’s about 75 million of them in this country—recently surpassing the Baby Boomers as the biggest cohort—and, while there’s no way that 75 million people can fit in a neat little box, a good portion of them share a number of characteristics: • They’re the first since “The Greatest Generation”—i.e., those who grew up during World War I—to spend their young adulthood in times of war and recession. • They’re digital natives. Even those born at the infancy of the Millennial generation had access to the Internet by their teenage years, and that’s had a significant impact. Millennials are more than 2.5 times likely to be early adopters of technology than other generations. • They’re less religious, more politically independent and significantly more diverse, both racially and ethnically. • They care about food (after all, this is the generation that came up with the “foodie” label), spending in excess of $96 billion a year on more than mere “sustenance.” • They care about nutrition—36% track their daily food and beverage intake with an app (or something similar) and, according to a Private Label Manufacturers Association (PLMA) study, 6 out of 10 Millennials report eating healthier foods than their parents (and half consume more organic products). MILLENNIALS AS MOMS AND DADS Out of the 75 million Millennials, some 22 million of them are already parents—and that number is growing rapidly, as approximate ly 9,000 babies are born each day to Millennial moms and dads. Each of the characteristics noted above that defines Millennials as a generation also plays a significant role as Millennials have children (and, to an extent, how they view school meal programs). How so? • Coming of age during war and recession has meant that Millennials are choosing to wait longer to achieve traditional milestones, including having children. The average age of a first-time mother is now 26 years old, compared to 21 in 1970. • As digital natives, Millennials spend a lot more time on social media than moms of other generations. Typically, Millennial moms have a Facebook, a Twitter and a Pinterest account, spending an estimated 17 hours a week on social media. Some research has found that all that sharing creates a lot of pressure on parents to “measure up” in comparison. More on this in a minute. • As this country’s population continues to diversify, about half of all newborns are non-white. Some 15% of all marriages are interracial. Around 4 in 10 Millennial moms are raising children as single mothers. • When it comes to food, Millennials are rarely satisfied with the status quo. When feeding themselves and their children, they are influenced by certain buzzwords: “unprocessed,” “local,” “fresh,” “grass-fed.” Nearly 85% of them say “freshness” influences their purchases, with 41% saying that they’ll pay more for that quality in the foods they consume. MILLENNIALS AS SCHOOL LUNCH INFLUENCERS Let’s dive a little deeper into the influence of the Internet and social media on Millennial parents, because it plays a significant role in how you reach them with your school nutrition messages. As the saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” In the case of Millennial parents, it’s a digital village. This generation turns, more often than not, to the Internet—whether Facebook, Twitter, blogs or apps—to seek answers, advice, product recommendations and parenting tips. But, there’s a dark side to the prevalence of connectivity, and that’s the pressure to be a “perfect parent.” A whopping 84% of Millennial moms said this label is important to them, according to a BabyCenter survey. Thus, this generation’s mothers tend to have continual anxiety that other moms are judging their choices, including food. In one study, 30% of Millennials report that they are concerned with friends judging what their kids eat. What does that mean for school meal programs? Consider the busy parent who may want to take advantage of cafeteria offerings, but is worried that another parent will judge that choice for any number of reasons, from a perception that school food is inherently inferior to the notion that failing to pack a brown bag for your child somehow makes you lazy and irresponsible. If our busy parent lacks any confidence whatsoever in the school cafeteria—or simply doesn’t know enough about it—you may have lost her and her kids. Also, remember that word spreads fast in our social media world. If one child has a negative experience in your cafeteria, you can expect many parents to make judgments about your program as a result. But all is not lost. If you take time to nurture an influential group of parents, the connectivity of this generation can multiply the power and scope of your support. Let’s say the president of the PTA has a child who regularly selects school meals. Invite them to eat lunch with their child and ask permission to take a photo to post on social media. Visiting parents might even “check in” to the school cafeteria via social media, as they might at a restaurant or bar. MILLENNIALS AS WORLD CITIZENS Many Millennials put the “social” in something besides social media; they value social responsibility, too. Take a cue from the success of commercial foodservice chains, such as Panera Bread and Chipotle. Millennials tend to like companies that put their money where their mouth is, so to speak, when it comes to social responsibility. That includes food—using, for example, sustainably raised ingredients and, if possible, local sources. At press time, Panera Bread was running a fairly new campaign for its kids’ meals: “At Panera we believe kids shouldn’t have to imagine what’s in their food.” That is a message that Millennial parents respond to! Are you sharing it with your parent customers about the ingredients you use and recipes you prepare? Now, it’s not always feasible to use sustainable or local ingredients in your meals. But are you making the most of communicating other socially responsible practices? How many pieces of kitchen equipment are ENERGY STAR-certified? Do you recycle? Do you have a gleaning program, donating leftovers to food pantries for the homeless? Do you have a backpack program to support low-income families on weekends? Do your staff members participate as youth mentors or tutors? Does anyone know about these aspects of your operation and the commitment of your team? Simply sharing them could make a big impact with your Millennial parents. According to Millennial Marketing, an organization that tracks consumer trends as they relate to the Millennial generation, nearly 50% of this age cohort are more willing to purchase from a company if it supports a cause they believe in. Take, for example, Target’s 2014 “Buy One Give One” campaign, which matched back-to-school purchases with donations to a children’s foundation. Generating $25 million in matched school supplies, it was quite a successful campaign. Step back and consider how can you apply this model to your own operation. For example, next month, School Nutrition will spotlight a creative initiative in Minneapolis in which local restaurants “adopt” neighborhood school cafeterias and hold fundraiser nights at which a portion of diners’ bills go to cafeteria improvements or related projects. This initiative is a Millennial marketing trifecta, combining great food, social responsibility and creative connectivity. MILLENNIALS AS TECH-ADEPT CONSUMERS When it comes to Millennials of means and how they choose to spend their money, there are two key words: convenience and digital. Take, for example, Uber (the car service that can be ordered with a touch of a button). It solved a problem that people had—the need to get from point A to point B without too much hassle or having to carry cash—and it did so conveniently and digitally; in this case, through a smartphone app. And, speaking of smartphone apps, let’s tackle a tricky topic: mobile marketing. You probably have a website on which you post monthly menus, and there’s even a good chance you have a Facebook page (or other social media accounts) that provide regular updates, photos and facts about the program. However, is that website optimized for mobile usage? (In other words, does it scale down to the size of a smartphone or tablet screen without losing content or the design?) Are you posting to social media regularly or, perhaps just as bad, are you posting too much and too often, causing parents to get sick of seeing your content clog their Newsfeed? It’s not enough for Millennials to simply have arrived in the digital age, you need to thrive technologically to grab their attention. That priority extends beyond marketing and communications tools, too. Are student meal accounts easy to access online from varying devices? Can parents make credit card payments? Is it an easy and intuitive process? Convenient and digital—those are the bywords for all points of contact with your millennial parents. LEARNING THE MILLENNIAL MINDSET If you’re not a Millennial yourself, their desire to have everything online and require everything (or so it seems) to have some type of cause behind it may feel like a foreign culture. It will get easier to address the needs of that mindset if you make a concerted effort to understand it. Luckily, it’s not that hard—regularly read popular and local “mommy bloggers” (there are literally millions to choose from) to see what they’re feeding their kids at home (and what types of food they’re prioritizing)—this may lead to some new menu ideas. Make yourself a presence at back-to-school nights and other school events, so moms and dads can ask questions and offer suggestions that will give you an insight as to why their kids do or do not participate in the cafeteria. It might give you a chance to correct some misconceptions—because even though a Millennial’s school years might not seem that long ago to you, you know how much has changed about school meals in the last 20 years! Although Millennials have a unique set of characteristics and quirks, the truth is that, as parents, they want the same thing for their children as every other generation of parents before them: for the child to be healthy, fed and happy. Like Generation X, the Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation before them, Millennial parents will be more likely to put their trust in you (and offer their child’s participation) if they understand the program, believe that the food you’re serving is nutritious and know that you truly care about the students. Earn 1 CEU in the designated Key Area and Key Topic Code noted above Kelsey Casselbury is a contributing editor to School Nutrition and a Millennial mom. Based in Odenton, Md., she is a former managing editor of this publication.
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