As incoming college freshmen pack their bags for school this fall, many will be saying goodbye not only to family members but also to existing eating habits. Thanks to innovative campus foodservice, adventurous global cuisine restaurants and the influence of new acquaintances, impressionable students are exposed to new foods that quickly turn into favorites. They develop new eating habits and expectations that will stick with them long after graduation, impacting the food industry for decades to come, according to the recently released “Collegiate Gen Y Eating: Culinary Trend Mapping Report” by market research publisher Packaged Facts and San Francisco-based strategic food and beverage innovation agency CCD Innovation.
“The college environment, with its campus food courts, self-serve bars, and convenience stores along with plenty of nearby cheap global eats, offers students an exceptional opportunity to experience new foods, flavor profiles and eating styles,” says Kimberly Egan, CEO of CCD Innovation. “Just as minds expand in the classroom, palates expand in college and are forever altered. The food industry will need to respond to these adventurous consumers as they leave campus and start earning their own paychecks.”
To get an inside look at the dynamics of food attitudes and behaviors of the nearly 20 million 18- to 22-year-olds who currently are attending college, CCD Innovation conducted several online quantitative research studies in late 2011 and spring 2012 at several college campuses nationwide. From this research comes the basis of the report, which outlines four major needs and seven culinary behaviors or preferences this cohort are developing that are distinct from previous generations. College millennials current needs for powerful nutrition, flavorful food, comfort and indulgence, and speed and convenience are driving their food choices that in turn shape the culinary trends of tomorrow. The report explores these culinary trends via in-depth profiles that include student survey quotes:
• Profile 1: Dining Along the Meatless Spectrum—More students align themselves along the less-meat to meatless spectrum from flexitarian to vegetarian to vegan and even raw diets.
• Profile 2: The Mighty Chickpea—Inexpensive, versatile and packed with protein, the worldly chickpea fills student bellies in myriad ways.
• Profile 3: Nut Butters: A Protein Pal—Although Gen Y students grew up in a climate of peanut distrust due to the increase in children’s allergies, college students today have embraced peanut butter’s valuable protein power along with that of other nut butters, especially almond.
• Profile 4: Fruit & Vegetable Discovery—New college students are discovering a whole new world of fruits and vegetables. On campus they encounter expansive salad bars, unfamiliar vegetable side dishes and unusual vegan and vegetarian fare. Friends, restaurants and student retail haunts like Trader Joe’s introduce them to new dried fruit snacks, to-go salads and produce-centric beverages.
• Profile 5: Asian Love Affair—We hear so much about how younger millennials have grown up eating global cuisine. From our survey, we learned many continue the discovery in college. Thanks to dining halls and nearby ethnic restaurants, students have many opportunities to try new foods. While flavor is the primary driver, other qualities attract students such as the vegetarian possibilities and robust amount of vegetables. Customization is another draw.
• Profile 6: Italian & Mexican: Familiar Comfort—While college is a time to explore new foods and diets, it’s also stressful. Sometimes a child needs a little comfort, something familiar, warm and filling. That’s where Italian and Mexican cuisines come in.
• Profile 7: On-the-Go Fare—“Easy to make.” “Portable.” “Eat quickly.” “Eat as I walk to class.” These are the refrains coming from our student survey respondents about their “go-to” foods.