Who’s saying one thing then buying another?


While Millennials claim to value food products with certain attributes, they may not choose to buy them.

Our personal values are known to have a significant impact on the foods and beverages we include in our choice set. For some people this can mean only buying free-range eggs and poultry, while others only use eco-friendly cleaning products. Socially desirable attributes like organic, ethically produced and GMO-free are common features of consumer goods today and for some consumers, are non-negotiable. But the types of ingredients, clean labels and levels of fat, salt and sugar are also attributes important to consumers. 

Researchers at Kansas State University* have found discrepancies between what older millennials said was important to them and what they choose to buy. In a two stage experiment, researchers looked firstly at factors that millennials felt were important when selecting chocolate and then at what mattered to them when it came to purchase. Ultimately, they found that preferences for chocolate with socially desirable qualities were unlikely to outweigh factors such as price, brand and taste when it came to choice.

The researchers were particularly interested in the tension between social attributes the millennials claimed to value and their actual purchasing decisions, given the significant purchasing power this cohort will have in later years when they have a higher level of disposable income. 


The researchers findings:

Groups of 18-25 and 26-35 year olds were asked what attributes they felt were most important when selecting chocolate, with socially responsible traits such as pro organic- anti-GMO and pro fair trade being offered as options. The younger age group felt that taste was most important and were dismissive of most social factors while the older age group favoured chocolate with socially desirable attributes.

Some of those most supportive of chocolate with socially responsible qualities confessed that their primary motive was guilt reduction and some admitted they didn’t always purchase in accordance with their attitudes due to limited financial resources. The researchers felt that the attitudes of some within the older age group might be influenced by their college education and understanding of what was ‘popular’ to express around food.

 A subsequent experiment found that when choosing a chocolate bar, only 14% or respondents showed a strong preference for chocolate that was organic, Fair Trade, non-GMO, and Rainforest Alliance Certified over the product not having any of these attributes and no social attribute was preferred over another. A strong preference for clean labels was also shown amongst most participants. Interestingly, higher sugar content and lower fat was also more preferred, possibly due to chocolate being associated with sweetness and being a treat food.


What does this mean then?

It doesn’t mean that these social attributes aren’t important to millennials, but rather that the importance of these factors is sometimes outweighed by others. The study makes clear however, that if a company can offer at least one socially desirable attribute to the conscious consumer, whilst at the same time balancing other traits such as great taste and competitive price, that brand may see more benefit than if it were to focus too hard on its social responsibility when trying to capture a millennial market.


*Young, M. E., & McCoy, A. W. (2015). Millennials and chocolate product ethics: Saying one thing and doing another. Food Quality and Preference49, 42-53. 


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