4 Interesting Facts About Millennials' Food Buying Habits

Public Domain. MaxPixel -- A fridge full of pre-packaged health foods has 'Millennial' written all over it.

Convenience takes priority over all.

When Millennials decide to do something, it affects everyone. This generation of young people, born between 1980 and 1996, is a force to be reckoned with. Some Millennials are just beginning their professional lives, while others have well-established careers. Either way, they are developing consumption habits that will shape the economy for years to come. This is why retailers are always eager to know what Millennials are doing, in order to predict the future more accurately.

A report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, published last month, examines the food-buying habits of Millennials. Some interesting facts emerge from its findings.

First, Millennials buy a lot more prepared foods than previous generations did. There is an emphasis on convenience, with the largest budget shares going to food categories dominated by ready-to-eat foods. Whether this is because Millennials are leading busy lives and following packed schedules or because they've never learned how to cook is unclear, but regardless, it could shape the most common offerings on store shelves.

Second, the wealthier a household becomes, the less food is purchased to be eaten at home. Millennials are big fans of eating out, consuming food in a restaurant or bar around 30 percent more often than any other generation. Related to this is the discovery that "Recession Millennials", those who entered the job market during the Great Recession of 2007-2009, continue to spend more money on food at home than those who entered the job market afterwards. It seems that frugal shopping habits stick -- a good thing!

Third, Millennials have some interesting (and questionable) dietary choices:

"Among all generations, Millennials devote the smallest share of food expenditures to grains, white meat, and red meat. Though Millennials spend less on food at home in total, they allocate more proportionately to prepared foods, pasta, and sugar/sweets than any other generation."

Millennials do eat a lot of fruit, on par with their grandparents' generation (the Traditionalists, born prior to 1946), but their vegetable consumption doesn't increase until their incomes do. (Avocados can be expensive!)

Finally, Millennials spend less time cooking, eating, and cleaning up than any previous generation. They also make the fewest number of trips per month to the store. This shouldn't come as a surprise, knowing how much they prioritize convenience foods, but it's a stark contrast when you compare the actual numbers:

"Millennials spend, on average, 12 minutes less eating and drinking than Traditionalists, who devote the most time toward those activities at 77 minutes per day. However, all four generations spend essentially the same amount of time in secondary eating (i.e., eating a snack while watching a movie)."

As a member of the Millennial generation myself, I found these findings curious, mainly because I cannot relate to them. I suspect the eating out trend is urban-based, because anyone living outside a major center will have far fewer options for takeout and even restaurants.

I wonder, too, if many of the Millennials surveyed do not have children. A 2012 report by the Urban Institute think tank said that the current generation of young women (in their 20s) have the lowest birth rate in all of U.S. history. Millennials are known for waiting to start families.

This is relevant because food habits change drastically with the arrival of children. Eating out with kids, from both a logistical and financial standpoint, is not easy. At least for me, it wasn't until I had kids that grocery shopping and cooking daily meals from scratch became a necessity.

Alas, I fear these findings do not bode well for Millennials, but then maybe habits will change with age. I'm of the mentality that meals are a focal point around which the rest of one's life should evolve, but it seems I'm in the minority. I like to think of J.R.R. Tolkien's marvelous quote: "If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world."