Millennials are quickly becoming a dominant force in the restaurant market. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food expenditure data, millennials are already outspending their baby boomer counterparts at restaurants by 4 percent. Additionally, as both groups age, millennials are poised to become an even larger part of the foodservice economy. This makes it vital for restaurants to compete for this younger generation’s attention, but capturing these picky consumers requires that restaurants offer foods that align with their values and preferences.
First, according to McCormick’s Flavor Forecast, millennials have diverse palates and crave taste adventures, so it’s important to offer them big, bold flavors. The same report says that ethnic cuisine now accounts for almost half of all flavoring occasions in the U.S. Yet simply offering these consumers ethnic dishes is often not enough; restaurants must also offer foods that fit the millennial lifestyle.
The NPD Group reports that many millennials and older Gen Z diners opt for snack foods that are also low-cost, smaller portioned, and perceived as healthy. Because these young consumers are busy, dishes that may traditionally be considered snacks by themselves are now being consumed on the go in place of traditional sit-down meals. Handheld items such as sandwiches, wraps, and burritos help capture all the demands millennial consumers are searching for at meal times while providing the convenience of a portable meal.
“Convenience is key for this generation, and handheld foods are a perfect meal solution for busy, on-the-go people,” says Chef Mark Garcia, director of foodservice at Avocados from Mexico. “Millennials are budget conscious but also crave high-quality, healthy ingredients and on-trend flavor profiles. Handhelds can deliver on these somewhat conflicting attributes better than most other applications.”
Sandwiches, for example, are a prime category for exploring handheld options because they already account for 40.2 percent of the $232.2 billion in sales made by the top 100 limited-service concepts each year, Garcia says. Restaurants can offer their own signature creations to cash in on this trend. Starting small by offering sandwiches that highlight a popular ingredient is a great way to begin attracting millennial diners.
“Operators have a lot to gain from capitalizing on the profit power of sandwiches, and it doesn’t have to be complicated,” Garcia says. “Adding ‘wow’ factor and originality to handheld and portable foods is as simple as incorporating one fresh, healthy, versatile ingredient, like avocados, or adding a new, on-trend sauce to revamp a menu staple.”
Because avocados already have a healthy halo, they add instant appeal for younger consumers. Garcia says they can also be paired with pickled, marinated, and roasted vegetables to add more nutritious and flavorful ingredients.
Pairing the sandwich’s popularity with other food trends, such as ethnic cuisine, can also make dishes popular among younger diners. For example, Datassential MenuTrends reports that Vietnamese banh mi and Mexican tortas are among the fastest growing sandwich varieties, and offering these popular types of sandwiches can add additional appeal for younger consumers.Offering more menu diversity in handheld form can draw millennial diners into a restaurant, but offering so many dishes—each with its own set of ingredients—can create operational strain. Sandwiches, wraps, and burritos, however, pair well with house-made sauces that make it easy for restaurants to keep up with demand for variety and provide opportunities to cash in on another hot millennial trend—customization.
“Customization and house-made specialties are key to earning millennial consumers’ loyalty,” Garcia says. “Sauces that use familiar, beloved ingredients in unexpected ways or put a modern twist on a classic are irresistible to this foodie generation. Using fresh avocados as a base for creamy sauces is all the rage to add a healthy halo and intriguing twist to aioli, pesto, dressings, dips, and spreads.”
By creating house-made condiments that consumers can mix and match, substitute, or add to dishes, chefs can ensure their offerings stand out from the competition, but they also reduce kitchen strain. Instead of offering an entirely new creation with its own set of expensive ingredients, restaurants can add diverse sauces to handhelds, like sandwiches, which lets them reuse basic ingredients, such as proteins and breads, while still making dishes truly unique. Additionally, they don’t add any complex cooking tasks to the kitchen’s workload.
“House-made condiments and sauces are an operationally feasible solution to incorporate bold, on-trend flavors,” Garcia says. “Sauces and spreads allow operators to easily regionalize menu offerings and stay relevant as competition in the sandwich category heats up. Shake up a Buffalo chicken wrap by including an Avocado-Blue Cheese sauce, or revamp a pulled meat sandwich with a bold Texas-style Avocado Barbeque sauce.”
Whatever the concept, flavorful handheld dishes featuring healthy ingredients, such as avocados, can not only attract young diners, but these craveable creations will also keep millennials coming back for more.