Millennials Move Health and Wellness Market in New Ways

Plant-Forward Diets Meet Health  and Sustainability Needs

While some Millennials see vegetarian, vegan or plant-forward diets as better for their health, others choose those diets because of their concern about the environmental impact of eating meat.

More than one in five Millennials (22%) have adopted a vegetarian diet at some point in their lives, and 16% have tried a vegan diet, according to YouGov research, but a much larger share, 45%, are adopting a flexitarian lifestyle, in which they’re reducing meat consumption but not cutting it out entirely. A slightly smaller share of Millennials, 18%, are turning to dairy-free eating.

Sprouts Farmers Market commissioned One Poll to conduct consumer research around New Year’s 2021 to find out how shoppers were thinking about plant-based foods, finding that 54% of Millennial respondents were consuming more plant-based meals than meat, in contrast to the 47% of consumers of all age groups who described themselves as flexitarians.

While 58% of survey respondents reported feeling that all of their nutritional needs could be met with plant-based foods, 63% of Millennials said that a plant-based diet could fulfill their nutritional needs. Only 30% of consumers in the Boomer generation and older felt the same way.

This shift toward more plant-based foods and meat alternatives will only grow, the retailer predicts. “The interest in plant-based foods and a flexitarian diet is evident,” says Sprouts CEO Jack Sinclair. “Plant-based product sales grew exponentially last year, indicating consumers are craving innovative items to try at home.”

According to SPINS, the retail market for plant-based foods and beverages is worth $5.6 billion and growing at a pace of 29% annually, almost twice the 15% growth rate of the overall food and beverage market.

In its “State of Natural 2021” report, market researcher SPINS notes that plant-based ready-to-drink shelf-stable tea and coffee have been recent stars, growing 76%, as compared with 12% growth for the category overall. Other high performers were shelf-stable jerky and meat snacks, up 53% in a category with 15% growth; refrigerated creams and creamers, up 38% in a category with 16% growth; and refrigerated plant-based cheese, up 37% in the refrigerated cheese/plant-based cheese category, which has 17% growth.

Young People Say, ‘It’s OK to Not Be OK’

During the delayed pandemic Olympics in 2021, top-ranked gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from the all-around team competition and three of the four individual events for which she qualified, saying that she needed to focus on her well-being and mental health. Epitomizing younger Americans’ acceptance of mental health issues and of speaking openly about them, Biles received an outpouring of support from her Millennial and Gen Z peers — she was born on the cusp between generations — as well as all-time Olympic gold medal winner Michael Phelps, a Millennial who has been spreading his mantra “It’s OK to not be OK” while speaking openly about his own struggle with depression.

Healthscape’s “2020 Healthcare Trends Executive Brief” identified mental health openness as one of the top trends in Millennials’ interactions with health care. “Millennials have overcome the stigma associated with seeking professional help for mental health that previous generations held,” the report observes. “They are not only more likely to identify behavioral health issues, but also seek treatment.”

In a YPulse survey of Millennials and Gen Zers, i.e., people age 13 to 39 in 2020, 77% said that maintaining their mental health had become more important to them during the pandemic, with 59% reporting  that they were “going the extra mile” to take care of their mental health.
In January 2020, even before COVID-19 hit, 30% of Millennials in a YouGov survey said that they had changed their diet to improve their mental health.

Millennials understand that better sleep is tied to good mental health, so the trend toward eating certain foods and taking supplements to improve sleep is intertwined with Millennials’ commitment to their mental health.

A CRN survey taken in the midst of the pandemic found that melatonin, magnesium and CBD were among the most popular supplements taken for mental and sleep health, regardless of the consumer’s age.

Among the lesser-known ingredients for brain health, three in the nootropics category have seen double-digit growth in usage by manufacturers, according to SPINS. Use of Bacopa monnieri, an herb used by Ayurvedic medical practitioners that is said to enhance brain function, grew 148%; use of phosphatidylserine, an amino acid derivative purported to support memory, mental alertness and cognitive function, rose 109%; and use of DMAE, which is said to support neurotransmitter production, grew 104%. 

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