Today's young adults have gotten a reputation — some say unfairly — as Peter Pan types, clinging to adolescence and letting their helicopter parents do everything for them. Now, research says that millennials are definitely making headway countering that perception — at least in the kitchen.
Younger diners, along with their penchant for customization and preference for fresh foods, contributed to the growth of what the industry calls "fast casual" — Panera Bread, Chipotle Mexican Grill and the like. Even convenience stores and drug stores have been trying to get in on the popularity of "grab and go" prepared food. There are signs now, though, that young adults are drifting away from the drive-thru and picking up spatulas in front of their stoves.
Market researchers at The NPD Group say that millennials are cooking and eating more at home, and they've got the numbers to back it up. Older millennials, those between 25 and 34 years old, have made, on average, 50 fewer restaurant visits per person over the past several years. Over the past year alone, their use of the drive-thru dropped 6% and eat-in restaurant visits fell 1%. Younger millennials, those under the age of 25, still like ordering out, but they're more likely to eat it at home. This age bracket led a slight gain in takeout orders last year, while their drive-thru and sit-down visits also fell.
Young adults are starting to see cooking as economic necessity, especially as they reach the age when they're starting families. NPD finds that young millennials spend an average of $1,240 a year at restaurants, down $146 from 2007. The drop for older millennials, even though they presumably have more disposable income, is even steeper, down $213 per person to an average of $1,369 a year.
Instead, they're investing in new gadgets and gizmos like panini presses and rice cookers. Another NPD report says shoppers under 35 accounted for roughly a quarter of all the money Americans spent on small kitchen appliances last year, up five percentage points from only a year ago. "Their fundamental need for the essentials is what is moving the needle in many home-related categories," executive director and home industry analyst Debra Mednick says in a statement.
But it's not just about the money. Millennial consumers are famously self-aware — you might even say finicky — about what they put in their bodies. Market research firm Mintel finds that almost 60% of millennials under the age of 25 are skeptical about foods that make health-related claims like "GMO-free." Cooking at home gives them more control over what they eat. "It’s healthier and tastes better than what they can get away from home. Plus, it saves them money," says NPD restaurant industry analyst Bonnie Riggs.
"Another important factor for older millennials with kids under age 13 is that they are thinking of their families’ wants and needs," Riggs adds. Dinner is back to being family time — plus, to a generation that grew up with Chopped and Iron Chef, food is also entertainment. NPD finds that about half of millennials say they enjoy cooking, and a slew of new ingredient-delivery services like Blue Apron and Plated bring home cooking, well, back home.
"I think in the now culture we have created, services like these that make it easier to eat and cook with ease will see an increase in popularity," Morgan Oliveira, spokeswoman for food technology company Hampton Creek, tells Fast Company.