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Monday, February 1, 2021
filed under: Utilization/Trade

Photo courtesy ADM
        Millennials — the generation of people born during the period of 1981 and 1996 — are confident, ambitious and achievement-oriented. They have high expectations of their employers, tend to seek new challenges at work and aren't afraid to question authority.  These 20-somethings also are having an impact on the sunflower industry.
        Mike Kotzbacher, senior vice president of Red River Commodities, Inc., and Michelle Peitz, technical sales,  Ag Services and Oilseeds-Refined Oils at ADM, shared their thoughts on how this generation is changing the way they market their products. — Jody Kerzman
How are millennials’ shopping and eating habits different from their parents’ habits?
        Mike:  Millennials are more of the ‘grab-and-go’ type shoppers, meaning they grab what they need for that day.  They’re drawn to quick, convenient-type items — and the more convenient, the better.
        Michelle:  Modern consumers have busy lifestyles, and they are looking for solutions to fit into their schedules that are also nutritious and delicious.  Influenced by their on-the-go lifestyles, wellness concerns and conscious consumption habits, millennials are discerning in their choice of foods and beverages.
Does packaging play a part in what millennials purchase?
        Mike: Yes, in line with that ‘grab-and-go’ type shopping we talked about, we have learned that packaging plays a part in what millennials purchase.  We have seen targeted marketing toward certain flavors. The single-serving sizes are popular with this age group.
        Michelle:  Product packaging, including what is communicated on the label, plays a role in consumer acceptance and adoption.  Our research shows that health is the strongest driver behind the interest in sunflower oil.  For instance, a 40-year-old male in our study said he prefers sunflower oil “because it is more natural, has higher nutrients and is better for the body. Meals taste better with this oil.”  Another respondent, a 36-year-old female, noted that she tried sunflower oil because of the product’s perceived wellness benefits.
When we talk about trends in the food industry, organic, non-GMO and allergen-free foods are at the top of that list.  How does sunflower fit into those trends?
Photo courtesy
Red River Commodities
        Mike:  More people are shopping at stores like Trader Joes, Natural Grocers and the natural sections is grocery stores.   They are looking for healthier foods, and sunflower fits that. 
        Take, for example, SunButter®.  We first developed that and targeted it at those with food allergies.  Most of our buyers were moms who were looking for something to give their child who was allergic to peanuts and nuts.  Our product was and still is a very good fit for that group.  It is a healthy product for you — and we have switched more of our campaign to focus on the health and goodness of the product. What makes that product attractive to millennials is that it is healthy and has a clean label. 
        Instagram and Twitter are key places we can connect with millennials and advertise our products.  We know that’s where they are, and we know they can help us grow our brand.
        Michelle:  Millennials are motivated by many of the same desires as consumers of other generations.  More people are looking for products that have clean labels with recognizable, plant-based and sustainably sourced ingredients.  Furthermore, millennials are embracing lifestyle diets such as vegetarian, vegan, flexitarian, organic, non-GMO and keto.
        Today’s consumers are taking a more proactive, holistic approach to their health and wellness, and they are looking to wholesome nutrition from plant sources to fill this need.  Sunflower oil can help enhance product appeal by meeting the demands of each of these trends.
Has the pandemic changed anything?  Are people’s snacking habits different — and what has that meant to the industry?
Photo courtesy ADM
       Mike:  Yes, some trends have changed due to the behaviors of consumers during the pandemic. The pandemic has increased retail sales of products when food service products have declined due to restaurant closings.  Retail products of sunflower did grow during the pandemic, but the impulse channel buys like convenience stores suffered.  There were less people on the roads getting fuel and snacks at these locations. 
        Michelle:  The global pandemic has amplified some trending consumer behaviors and altered others.  For example, quarantine led to a spike in at-home baking, as well as demand for salty snacks and ready-to-eat meals.  As much as consumers are reaching for comfort foods to self-soothe in times of stress and uncertainty, they also want better-for-you options they can feel good about eating.
        Sunflower oil is light in taste and appearance, is lower in saturated fat than soybean and olive oils, and is derived from seeds that are not bioengineered — all qualities that consumers are seeking in their foods and beverages.  Additionally, sunflower oil can be used in a variety of applications, from baking to frying.
What does all this mean for the sunflower industry?
        Mike:  Millennials are driving the grab-and-go category.  Sunflower is typically in a small pack, and this will go well for the industry.  Continue to influence this group with unique flavors and catchy packaging. 
        Michelle:  According to our research, new product launches using sunflower oil have shifted to categories like prepared meals and meal replacement drinks. We see similar growth in pizza, salads and pasta sauce categories.
          Millennials’ on-the-go lifestyles are influencing many of them to turn to snacking over meals, which is driving the desire for small-portion prepared meals and meal replacement snacks, such as nutrient-dense bars and snack mixes.  The inclusion of sunflower oil and seeds in these types of products can be appealing to consumers. In fact, in our study, a 26-year-old male recognized that sunflower oil is used in certain brands of chips, and he said he likes the way it tastes.
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