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"Marketers Obsess Over Millennials" was a recent headline in the New York Times, underscoring the importance of this generation that will account for 50 percent of the U.S. workforce by the end of this year and 75 percent by 2020. Convenience store owners trying to expand their foodservice business are eager to tap into this market, but where to start?
Start by Educating the Customer
Our research and client experience suggests that education is one important way to differentiate your foodservice offerings. Remember first that millennials (generally considered to be those born from 1978 to 2000) are the best-educated generation in U.S. history.
They thirst to learn, and their easy familiarity with the Internet and social media means that learning is built into every aspect of their daily life. A recent article referred to them as “Generation Why” because they are so curious and inquisitive.
Educated people seek choices and millennials embody this trait: 57 percent compare prices in a store. Educated people are discriminating: one study found that only 32 percent of millennials find brand communications helpful, and 30 percent refuse to read content if it is not educational or entertaining.
A Forbes writer summed it up nicely: "Successful marketers will make sure they feel informed and involved, not just marketed to." This suggests a general retail strategy of brands being educational and informative — the more information available, the better.
Customers should feel they have enough data points about a brand, their products and services to make a wise shopping decision. Remember, millennials like to comparison-shop, and they like to shop brands that are supportive of the causes that are important to them (such as caring about health and wellness, and compassionate about social and environmental issues).
The Role of In-Store Communications
As related to a c-store’s foodservice offerings, printed communications within the store environment play the most critical role in educating customers.
There are many opportunities to educate the customer in the various food-related “customer zones” throughout the store. The trick is to develop communications that are zone-appropriate and are responsive to customer needs and expectations within each of the zones.
For example, if customers are shopping the produce zone, they may want to know more about the freshness, origin and nutritional benefits of your produce. Here is the right zone for educating the customer about a particular food product (e.g., “Local Corn Picked This Morning, Rich in Antioxidants”).
In the “pre-order zone” (where customers line up to place their orders), here is a good place to educate the customer regarding good values, new products or delicious food pairings (e.g., “Save by Pairing Our New Italian Stallion Sandwich with a Tuscany Lemonade”).
The dine-in zone (where customers will spend more time) is the perfect zone for educating the customer about your brand, or perhaps engaging them in a social media interaction.
The key is to pair the right educational message to the right customer zone.
The Role of the Menuboard, Specifically
Here’s a specific area where you can list the facts that really matter to millennials: calorie counts (it will soon be mandatory), plus nutritional details beyond calories, and source of origin.
Be as precise as you can in the latter regard, not just country or even state. The successful Five Guys burger chain lists the specific farm, city and state where they get the potatoes for their fries.