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Why-ology News: Trend Go beyond the what to the why of consumer behavior. February 2017

Do Millennials Really Hate Groceries?

It's not just Millennials that are spending fewer dollars at traditional grocery stores. Nor are Millennials driving this cultural change. Only one consumer group is spending more at the store.

Derek Thompson, senior editor at the Atlantic, headlined his 2 November 2016 article "Why Do Millennials Hate Groceries?" Thompson probes more deeply into a Wall Street Journal report of the week before, stating that twenty- and thirty-somethings "are bidding adieu to yet another cultural mainstay of the Baby Boomer generation—shopping trips to supermarkets." Indeed, Nielsen's consumer and shopper analytics group reports a dramatic shopping shift away from supermarkets.

Cultural changes are often the province of the youngest age cohort; at the moment, Millennials are in the crosshairs. Actually, many changes reflect broader developments affecting the spectrum of the population—even older consumers. Thompson is quick to point out, "many cultural changes are really reversions to old norms." Older people may be emotionally satisfied to blame young people for disrupting the established order. However, about the decline of food spending at grocery stores, Millennials aren't the only consumers shopping less frequently at a traditional grocery store. VALS™/GfK MRI reports that between spring 2006 and spring 2016, the percent of US adults shopping at a grocery store once a week has declined from 35% to 28%; shopping twice a week has declined from 29% to 24%, and shopping three times or more a week has declined from 23% to 21%.

Trend: Average Amount Household Spends at a Food Store in a Typical Week

After a steady increase between 2001 and 2014 in the average amount of dollars that households spend at a food store in a typical week (from $108 to $125), the decline in spending for all VALS groups except Achievers beginning in spring 2015 is marked. Remember, a high proportion of Achievers have children; even if an Achievers mom grabs a latte at Starbucks on the way to work, providing breakfast and packing lunches for a growing family isn't cheap. Strivers and Survivors, the two most financially constrained groups, are both spending $10 less a week on average in 2016 than they were in 2014. For these two groups, grabbing a restaurant meal is cheaper (and less hassle) than cooking at home.

Read Trade-Offs: Eating Out to learn how many consumers are shifting from preparing meals to prepared meals.

Why-ology News was a periodic newsletter highlighting free content from the VALS team. Visit the Why-ology Library for additional featured content.