5 Ways Food and Nutrition Brands Can Reach Millennials

Why McDonald’s New McWrap Missed the Point

McDonald’s Millennial problem has been the talk of the town with the launch of its biggest product of the year, the McWrap. In an attempt to win over the Millennial generation, the McWrap, referred to as the “Subway buster,” is supposed to offer customization and variety, two highly coveted expectations of Millennials. The problem? Not only is the McWrap missing the essence of customization, this one product offering also fails to address some of the most important Millennial influences. If McDonald’s really cares about targeting Millennials, the company should start following the lead of some of their nutrition focused food brand adversaries.

Here are 5 ways successful food and nutrition brands are reaching millennials.

1.  What’s Your Story?

Millennials care about the story behind their food so much, we’re actually willing to pay more for a product whose story aligns with our values. How is the food made? What is in it? Chipotle is one food brand succeeding in this area. The moment you step into the restaurant the messaging clearly communicates where the ingredients come from, the health benefits provided and the sustainability efforts you help support as a customer.

To win over Millennials, food and nutrition brands need to tell their story and clearly define their brands passion and cause commitment. In fact, the Millennials Cause Study found when a cause message is linked to a brand in an authentic and relevant way, it is more likely to gain the attention and respect of young people today. A shared passion for a cause can foster a strong personal relationship between a brand and its target consumer.

The problem for McDonald’s? They’re missing the authentic story and cause that aligns with Millennials’ core values.

2.  Quality vs. Price

Millennials are more interested in what is in the food we’re buying rather than the brand name on the packaging. To convert Millennials into customers, brands need to focus on building messages around the notion of value and affordability. While Millennials are inherently looking for a good deal (we did experience one of the worst recessions), we are willing to splurge on attributes we value including convenience, freshness, health and variety. In fact, 58% of millennials surveyed said they are willing to pay more for all natural and organic products according to the study, Trouble in Aisle 5. While McDonald’s offers a great deal, it’s unhealthy reputation has me willing to pay a little bit more to eat somewhere with healthier options.

3.  Emphasize the Health Benefits

Clearly demonstrate why your product is a better, healthier option. Millennials are on a quest for products that help them live well for less. For instance, Whole Foods has Pinterest boards to clearly communicate healthy lifestyle choices such as “Eat Your Veggies,” “Greens on the Table” and “Healthy in 2013” (among other boards sharing the store’s sustainability efforts and causes).

Trader Joe’s is another grocery store with a unique and admirable appeal among millennials. By offering easy ideas for eating healthy while appealing to an array of nutrition preferences, Trader Joe’s is meeting a Millennial need. In fact, Trader Joe products contain no artificial colors, no flavors or preservatives, no MSG, no genetically modified ingredients or artificial trans fats and the product packaging clearly communicates this. It’s like music to the health conscious Millennials ears!

4.  Experience

Millennials crave an experience, particularly an “instagrammable” one. We don’t want to hear a brand market to us, we want to interact with a brand in a personal way. We want to experience a product first-hand and if we’re inspired enough, we’ll even share it with our social networks. Part of what we crave in an experience is the ability to customize, connect and try something new. From the rise of the food truck, to the all natural food movement, food has become a personal expression of one’s self and a symbol of life’s moments. Just open up one of your social networks, from Facebook to Instagram to Twitter to Pinterest, people are sharing photos of their food as much as their dogs or children. I don’t know about you, but I don’t find anything inspiring about a seemingly normal fast food chicken wrap from McDonald’s and if I’m not inspired, I’m not instagramming it.

5.  Honesty’s the Best Policy

Millennials have grown up during an obesity epidemic and among a convoluted debate of what causes a poor diet and what consists of a healthy lifestyle. The result? Millennials have increasingly become interested in what exactly is in our food. How unhealthy is it, really? Is it hormone free or farm raised? Healthy or not, we want to know so we can make a conscious decision. Unfortunately, Millennials don’t feel that brands disclose enough information about their food products. It took a new law mandate from the President for fast food restaurants to display the nutrition values openly on their menu. Now it’s obvious why McDonald’s would be adverse to this in the first place, but this is the type of transparency Millennials crave.

That’s a Wrap

Despite the growing obesity epidemic in the United States, many Millennials are taking steps to get fit and stay healthy.  At 80 million strong, by 2017 the Millennial generation will have more spending power than any other generation; and some say we could be the group to catapult the natural food industry into the next generation. If other food chains offer options more in line with Millennial values and harness our taste buds now, I think it’s going to be hard for McDonald’s to catch up (even despite our current lack of brand loyalty). If McDonald’s wants to grasp the Millennial customer, the company should take some lessons from their nutrition food brand adversaries.

What other tips would you offer food and nutrition brands targeting Millennials? What brands have inspired you with their nutritious food options? Please share any thoughts you have in the comments! 

About Rachael Seda:

AE, Health PR @PadillaCRT. Grew up barefoot in Hawaii. Social media geek. #JMU alum. Runner. Creative. Optimist. Cheese=my weakness. I dream of traveling the world.

13 Comments on “5 Ways Food and Nutrition Brands Can Reach Millennials

    •  by  Rachael Seda

      Thanks for commenting and sharing this article Ashley! I was actually thinking about Chick-fil-a when I was writing my post along the lines of the experience inside their restaurants. They are consistently clean and pleasant and the environment doesn’t make me feel like I’m eating fast food ironically enough!

  1.  by  Paula Kiger

    Rachael, sorry this comment is so much brief than I would like but your points are on-target. And I think essentially the issue is (to me) that McDonalds may catch on to the fact that millennials want all that, and they may create campaigns that will try to engage “trust” but at their core they prove time and again through their business practices that they are untrustworthy. To be transparent, though, I have a teenager who loves McD and I don’t completely boycott it for that reason. I just cringe a little bit every time I check in there on FourSquare …. and I have yet to find anything he has gotten from there instagrammable.

    •  by  Rachael Seda

      Too funny Paula, I laughed when you agreed with nothing being instagrammable! You’re right, the issue really lies in the fact that they aren’t actually transparent and it’s for a reason. Thanks so much for commenting Paula, I hope you’re doing well!

  2.  by  Lisa

    Nice post, Rachael. I think Panera is another admirable example for those trying to reach millenials. Not just because of their choices and transparency on ingredients and calories but because they seem to embrace a philosophy dubbed “capitalism with a conscience.” Check out this recent article,

  3.  by  Emily Valentine

    Interesting post, Rachael. Good point about Millenials expecting to be able to customize meal options. I am definitely one of those people:) Makes sense that chains like Sweet Green and Sweet Frog, etc., are doing so well — they offer unlimited mix-and-match opportunities (some healthier than others)!

  4.  by  Chelsea

    Great post, Rachael. As a millennial myself, I could not agree with you more when you talked about customers paying more money for healthier options versus McDonald’s new wrap. I am that exactly. I do not trust McDonald’s because of their “brand image” and when the company tries to come out with healthier options, I still would pay more for a different option. It is a bit stereotypical and just how I grew up; knowing McDonald’s “made you fat.” Another company I think that does a great job of marketing health options, and organic products, is Pulp Juice and Smoothie Bar ( It is very popular here in Ohio, and consistently advocates its real food products with no added ANYTHING. And, because of that, I do not mind paying $10 for a wrap, when I can get one off of the dollar menu at McDonald’s. Great post, I really enjoyed the read!

  5.  by  Rachael Seda

    Aww Emily I was thinking about Sweet Green the whole time I was writing this!! I so miss it. I want them to build one in the Hampton Roads area! Thanks for your comment doll!

  6.  by  Rachael Seda

    Hi Chelsea! Thanks so much for your comment! I completely agree with you on cost vs. quality. If I’m ever in Ohio I will have to check out the Pulp Juice and Smoothie Bar it sounds right up my alley. May Aunt just gave me her old Vita Mix that is still kickin’ and I’ve been a smoothie queen lately!

  7.  by  Gary Yokie

    The healthiness of McDonald’s menu items aside, how did the name “McWrap” get past company officials, ad execs, and focus groups. “McWrap” at least lends itself to mispronunciation, and it won’t take extra-clever devils to deliberately parody the name. (Go ahead, say it three times fast.)

  8.  by  Rachael Seda

    Hi Gary! Haha too funny….I just said it out loud and you’re right! No bueno! Thanks for the comment!

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