Millennials have been blamed for killing dozens of industries, from banks to beer to real estate (even cereals and napkins). Now they’re accused of killing canned tuna because they can’t be bothered to open a can, and according to an executive for tuna company Starkist in The Wall Street Journal, don’t even own can openers.
That was the last straw (paper, not plastic, please) for Jolie Peters, senior editor at Plan 3000, a socially conscious storytelling platform by and for Millennials and Generation Z. Peters, 26, thinks people are completely missing the story about Millennials and food - and are clueless in a few other areas as well. After all, they are shaking up the finance world with their focus on socially responsible investing.
“The article [in the WSJ] was striking to me because it framed the death of canned tuna in a negative way but there’s definitely some truth to it. Millennials and Gen Z’s are seeking out fresher options,” Peters told TriplePundit.
As the daughter of restaurateurs who grew up eating freshly prepared food, Peters says she has never eaten canned tuna—but not for lack of a can opener.
Millennials, who represent nearly one-quarter of the population, are increasingly shifting away from meat and fish in general, with 10 percent of consumers between ages 18 to 29 either vegetarian or vegan.
As for canned tuna’s carbon footprint, there’s some debate. While the Environmental Working Group claims not eating canned tuna saves 6.1 kilograms of CO2 per kilo of canned tuna, a study commissioned by the WWF estimated the carbon footprint of canned tuna to be far lower.
Millennials are some of the healthiest eaters of any generation. According to the Organic Trade Association, 52 percent of organic consumers are Millennials and they eat 52 percent more vegetables than their older counterparts. And they’re shifting their diets dramatically, with some 40 percent embracing plant-based diets.
The food industry needs to pay attention to how this important demographic is making food choices. – and many are doing so. For example, Peters says Trader Joe’s is one retailer beloved by Millennials that is “spot on” when it comes to understanding what they want (although Greenpeace ranks Trader Joe’s as just “okay” on its seafood sustainability practices). Others, like the canned tuna companies, may not be getting it.
Genuine, thoughtful efforts to listen to the voices of Millennials and Gen Z’s and their food preferences will be heard, Peters said. “Companies need to find a way to care about issues that really make sense to our generation.”
However, large processed food companies will still struggle in appealing to her age group, Peters says. She is not alone in this attitude—one study says Millennials are twice as likely to distrust large food companies than older generations.
“I’m not sure that any big corporation will really be able to satisfy what we’re looking for as you can’t make up for that demand from our generation for locally grown and produced food,” she says.
Witness Unilever’s purchase of Ben and Jerry’s almost 20 years ago; Honest Tea has been part of Coca-Cola; Hormel has done the same with Justin’s and Applegate Farms. PepsiCo, meanwhile, has dabbled in projects such as working with smallholder farmers in Ethiopia; three years ago the company said its sustainability efforts reined in $375 million in savings. But as Peters’ concerns suggest, the world’s largest companies have a lot more convincing to do in order to court this enormous, and lucrative, demographic.
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Based in southwest Florida, Amy has written about sustainability and the Triple Bottom Line for over 20 years, specializing in sustainability reporting, policy papers and research reports for multinational clients in pharmaceuticals, consumer goods, ICT, tourism and other sectors. She also writes for Ethical Corporation and is a contributor to Creating a Culture of Integrity: Business Ethics for the 21st Century. Connect with Amy on LinkedIn.