5 Ways Buying Local Matters (and Doesn’t) to Millennials

Knowing that attitudes about food quality and the importance of food origin have evolved with time, Fabric wanted to explore the topic with a new generation of grocery purchasers: Millennials. Their insights were honest, and they weren’t afraid to speak their minds in how their attitudes differ from their parents.

Research Objective

We wanted to understand the role food origin plays in Millennials’ attitudes about food quality and how origin impacts their food purchasing behaviors. Furthermore, we wanted to uncover how they feel their attitudes and behaviors differ from their parents.

Target Audience

National US sample

14 states/22 cities

Ages 18 – 32 All involved in food purchasing decisions

Even male/female ratio

Mix of ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds

We Learned

Millennials are actually channel-agnostic when it comes to shopping, and retailers need to maximize each platform to build a lasting relationship with this generation. This report highlights eight things you can do to make your consumer experience resonate with Millennials.

The majority of Millennials are proud to say they have a very different set of food purchasing priorities versus their parents.

The Parent’s food purchasing properties were defined in a way:

  • Acquire what is “on the list,” with food origin as low priority
  • Traditional grocery store chains = “good enough” standard
  • Keep food expenditures low to get the “biggest bang for the buck”
  • Purchase from wherever is the most convenient

Millennials’ Food Purchasing Priorities were defined this way:

  • Acquire local produce and meats that are “good for my body”
  • The majority of grocery stores = inferior standards versus farmer’s markets, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s
  • Support the local farmers and economy through local purchases
  • Purchase locally for the most minimal impact on the environment

Millennials feel that their “buy local” behaviors have many important implications

Origin not only impacts the freshness/ quality of the food, but also the “health” of it.

  • My local food purchases can impact my local economy
  • Buying local will ultimately help the environment
I try to buy from roadside fruit stands and vegetables stands or organic markets. My parents don’t share the same values. They buy whatever is the most convenient when they want it and I personally don’t feel that’s the best way to go about it.

Jessica, 29, FL

I’m definitely different from my parents. My parents go by cost. That’s their primary concern. They just go by what is cheapest. My veggies come from farmer’s markets and my meats come from Sprouts, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. I always do the research to check where they are from and to make sure they are healthy for my body.

Amanda, 28, CA

The way I eat is very different (from my parents.) I grew up in rural Indiana and ate a lot of Baby Boomer factory food. A lot of processed food. A lot of the food that we bought at the grocery store then was this type of factory processed food.

Shawna, 29, IL

While Millennials agree that “local” is important to health, the definition of “local” and its specific impact on their health varies.

  • For some Millennials, “local” means local farmers/farm stands, but for others it is defined as U.S. versus foreign production.
  • A subset of Millennials felt it is very important to purchase food from areas that “specialize” in producing that food – even if that is outside of their region.
  • While all mentioned freshness as a benefit of “local,” some also fear that non-U.S. produced foods equate to disease.
I like buying food that is as local as possible. If I have the option, I would rather buy fruit from Florida than, say, Mexico or somewhere else. I feel like the closer you are to your home, the fresher it’s going to be, the less preservatives needed to keep the food fresh and ready to eat.

~ Mari, 24, TN

I don’t like buying stuff that is from too far away or from somewhere that doesn’t specialize in what they’re making.

~ Krista, 28, MA

I’m not necessarily a health guru, I eat junk food mainly, but origins do impact behavior. Mainly food that comes from overseas has been linked with disease.

~ Douglas, 20, NC

Millennials feel good about the fact that their individual purchases help their local economy - but recognize there is a cost.

  • Some Millennials see “big food brands” and ”big box” retailers as the enemy of “local” success
  • While most said their parents often buy whatever is cheapest, they recognize that “buying local” usually does come at a premium
  • There was price sensitivity present, even among those in higher household income brackets.
I do try to support the local economy. My mom will buy local too if she can afford it, but if it’s cheaper somewhere else, she’ll do that to get the best bang for the buck.

Trey, 26, TX

I try to always support the local community to help them rise up. My parents try to too, but they will honestly eat anything!

Kayla, 25, OR

If I see something is local, I find that to be a good thing, but I would not pay more money for that to be the case.

Evan, 25, NY

I generally wouldn’t buy something that’s overpriced at a farmer’s market, either. But, if it costs not too much more then I wouldn’t mind spending a little extra money on it.

Simon, 25, CA

“Buying local” also allows Millennials to feel like they are helping the environment.

  • Millennials are more concerned about their “ecological footprint” than their parents
  • “Local food” benefits the environment because it is sustainable, and consumes lower energy and less fuel
The origins of food have a very large impact on my purchasing decisions. I am very focused on trying to keep a small ecological footprint.

Daniel, 23, MT

I like to go to local producers, farmers markets for my fruit and I wouldn’t mind getting organic meats as well, like chicken and beef, generally. That’s mostly, because I feel like it will help the environment a little bit. There’s a lot of damaging aspects to the big corporate game when you consider what’s happening to our environment, like mass production of methane and too much corn being produced.

Simon, 25, CA

Although “local” is often defined differently among Millennials,it does impact their buying behavior.

Their “local purchases” enable them to feel they are having a strong positive impact on their health, their local economy and the environment.

I believe that purchasing items that are more local like from Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are a bit healthier because I know where it (the food) traces back to and I also know that they aren’t going to be any kind of by products or chemicals that I wouldn’t want to have as my daily intake.

~ Ashley, 25, GA

I like to support the local farmers in the area…I feel like the farmers have a higher standard than the stores do because the grocery stores sometimes put out food that is not acceptable.

~ Heather, 28, NY

I think it’s important that we know where our food comes from and so much of the food that we buy in the grocery stores, we have no idea where it was manufactured, processed or anything

~ Zachary, 24, CA

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