7 Food Marketing Tips To Win with Millennial Fast Casual Eaters

Posted by: Jeff Fromm

It’s no secret that a healthy piece of the Fast Casual industry’s growth is related to the preferences millennials have shown toward this category. Where we once believed that the restaurant thought leaders were those in fine dining, more and more of today’s food trends and innovation are starting in the Fast Casual space.

By adding fresh food concepts and new flavor profiles, chains like Panera, Qdoba and Pita Pit have not only caught millennials’ eyes, but also those of major Fast Food chains. We’ve highlighted the seven food marketing truths to keep millennial consumers coming back for more.

Food Truth #1: Inspire Experiences & Adventures

Many brands are limited with the types of experiences they deliver onto their audience, but for Fast Casual restaurants, the options are limitless. The first and often easiest adventure comes through flavor innovation. By introducing new flavor profiles and product innovation, Fast Casual chains can gather a ton of WOM exposure and excitement around a brand.

Wing Stop has continued to create hype around its new wing flavors, especially with unique fan favorites like chili lime and mango habanero. But the adventure doesn’t have to end with taste. Finding new ways to engage your millennial co-creators and inspire a sense of adventure is something that will resonate long after they pay the bill.

Food Truth #2: Treat Content As Brand Fuel

contentWhile creating meaningful content is something that we talk about when it comes to all successful brands, restaurant and food brands have an especially important obligation to supply their consumers with valuable content.

This means being not only reactive to those talking about your restaurant (regardless of positive or negative), but also being proactive and creating planned content that will invite your audience to engage outside of just talking about food.

Food Truth #3: Demonstrate Visible Sustainability

Today’s consumer wants more than great food.  They want to feel good about their choices.  Company operating practices – not merely marketing – will influence their affinity toward brands that deliver affordable and sustainable choices.

With more access at their hands — via the Swiss Army Knife we know as Smartphones — than ever before, millennials are extremely likely to find out if your company’s food and practices don’t align with their own beliefs.

Food Truth #4: Think Healthy Not Wealthy

To understand this food-marketing trend, we’ll look at the grocery and retail space first. For years, the organic or “healthy” section of the traditional grocery store has been exiled to a small section, maybe earning a half an aisle near the back. Now, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Markets have allowed shoppers to look for healthy options because the whole store is based on myriad better-for-you options.

This trend continues to trickle to the restaurant space with Fast Casual stops like Noodles creating entire menus based on better-for-you items.

Food Truth #5: Strive For Transparency

When it comes to food, there’s a number of ways you can be transparent with your customers. Sure, you can put the number of calories you put in your food items on your website, but if that’s all you’re doing, you’re already a step behind. And if you’re looking who’s leading the pack, you know we couldn’t talk about Fast Casual success without talking about Chipotle.

The “Chipotle Experience” is all about transparency. From the ingredients to the cooking to the serving, it all happens right in front of the consumer. Restaurants that allow their customers’ eyes as close to the process as possible will truly start to take hold of Millennial Mindset® consumers.

Food Truth #6: Create Fresh Faster

Digital natives to the core, millennials obviously are used to speed. Getting food fast has never been difficult with McDonalds and Burger King being just a drive-through away. With more restaurants prioritizing healthy items, however, getting a fresh lunch on the go isn’t as easy as it needs to be.

A recent study by the National Restaurant Association surveyed menus of the 66 largest U.S. Restaurants and found a new item on the menu contained 12 percent fewer calories from 2013 to 2012. For millennials, it’s all about getting things closer to their table, so finding the between healthy options and getting it to them on the fly will gain traction exponentially in this area.

Food Truth #7: Embrace Disruption

Don’t wait for another company to take a bite out of your successful business model.  You must evaluate everything for your customer journey to your day part strategy to your flavor innovation.  Millennial consumers have little equity in old schemas so don’t be afraid to test “scalable” disruptions to improve your business and marketing models.

For restaurants, it’s all about finding ways to break through the clutter and using these disruptions to make your consumer think differently about your brand as well as the industry.

Integrate Social & Behavioral Customer Data Streams to Drive Advocacy

While we know that millennials are more willing to share private data than any generation before them, the real question is, are you actually using what they are sharing to drive increased loyalty and advocacy?

We believe that the most successful financial performers in the near future will integrate the available social and behavioral data with their customer data to create a true social CRM.

Why would you want to do that?

Because you will be able to attract like-minded customers at the Household level as well as target your current best advocates (based on spending and advocacy measures) in a very efficient manner.

By aligning your social and behavioral customer data with the food marketing truths that millennials are driving, Fast Casual restaurants can be sure to lock down their consumers of tomorrow and create relationships with brand advocates that will last much longer than the rush hour line at Chipotle!

Photo credit via Flickr: Thomas Hawk

Brendan Shaughnessy contributed to this post.

About Jeff Fromm

Although not a Millennial as defined by his age, Jeff Fromm is the Millennial Marketing Guy. Jeff is President of FutureCast, a marketing consultancy that specializes in Millennial trends, and is a contributing writer at...See Jeff's full bio.