MRM Talking With: Stacie Sopinka of US Foods on ‘What Millennials Crave’

This edition of MRM Talking With is focused on Millennials. Stacie Sopinka, Vice President of Product Development and Innovation at US Foods shares with Modern Restaurant Management magazine her views on millennial dining and food trends and why it’s important for restaurateurs to understand this demographic. In its new Spring Scoop, US Foods aims to help local chefs and independent restaurants create products and food experiences catered specifically for millennials. Some of the highlights include:
  • Globally inspired cuisines that feature authentic ingredients and international flavors
  • High-quality products that are both responsibly prepared and satisfy the taste buds
  • A new menu design offering that helps restaurateurs design top-quality menus

Under the banner “What Millennials Crave,” Spring Scoop features a lineup of 26 new products designed to help restaurant customers attract more millennial diners. Also featured are new menu design capabilities and a wide array of products that address several trends and product attributes important to millennials, including global cuisine, sustainability and portability.

What are some unique trends and dishes millennials crave?

Nearly half of millennials seek globally-inspired foods when dining out.

The demand for ethnic cuisine is continually growing. Nearly half of millennials seek globally-inspired foods when dining out. To meet this demand head-on, we’re recommending that restaurants add items to their menus that feature international ingredients and flavors. Spring Scoop includes products like Pacific Jade® Indian Curry, Thai Red Curry Sauce Starters and Chef’s Line® All Natural Chicken Shawarma to help give chefs and operators easy options to add ethnic flare to their menus. 

Natural, organic and sustainably sourced foods are also very popular with millennial diners, with 65 percent saying that they enjoy foods that are natural or organic (The Hartman Group). As demand continues to grow, we’ve made it a priority at US Foods to develop products and responsibly sourced ingredients. Spring Scoop aims to build on the success of last year’s Serve-Good™ line with other new, sustainable products like Chef’s Line All Natural Fire Grilled Chicken Breast and White and Dark Turkey Burgers that are vegetarian-fed and raised without antibiotics.

Stacie Sopinka

Why is it crucial for restaurants to cater to this demographic?

Millennials spend more money dining out than any other demographic, so it’s essential that operators understand their preferences and shape their menus accordingly. Studies show millennials spend on average $174 a month on food away from home, compared to $153 for other generations. But what’s really compelling about this demographic is how much they cherish the experience of eating out. Studies also show that an overwhelming majority of millennials will prioritize eating out, even when money is tight.

How is the millennial taste bud different than previous generations?

Millennials are twice as likely to risk danger in order to participate in an adventure. This behavior translates into food as well with bold and spicy flavors being millennial favorites. Extreme Eating can also take the form of participating in decadent offerings like fried chicken, ice cream sandwiches and poutine. Millennials have also redefined the term “healthy” as they shift their focus from low fat and low calorie towards food tribe favorites such as the paleo diet, vegan and gluten free offerings. 

What was the process of putting together these new items?

US Foods has a dedicated internal product innovation team that is charged with researching and identifying consumer trends and eating habits to inform our ongoing product development. We have three Scoop launches per year (Spring, Summer and Fall) that average around 25 new products and each launch has a different theme or set of trends that we try to concentrate our product innovation around.

With two-thirds of the team being millennials, we were able to draw on direct first-hand knowledge and experience for this year’s Spring Scoop.  

How do you feel they will inspire chefs and restaurateurs?

The new Spring Scoop products will help chefs and restaurateurs attract more millennial diners. These customizable products allow operators to design dishes in their own unique way, which keeps the menu independent and true to their vision.

How important is menu design for restaurants?

Nothing is more important that a first impression, and for restaurants, that first impression is often made through the menu. Recent stats from OpenTable suggest that 86 percent of millennial diners browse a restaurant’s menu online before choosing to eat there. Therefore, menu design should express the personality of a restaurant, be clear, and highlight the most profitable products.

We launched US Foods Menu in Spring Scoop to help restaurateurs design top-quality menus that highlight key dishes and engage diners.

What are some upcoming trends you are seeing?

Diners are increasingly eating on the run and also ordering their meals to go.  We think of this as lifestyle eating – snacking, eating at your desk and in your car are all part of the new norm.  Approximately 20 percent of meals are eaten in cars in the U.S. and with busy schedules eating three square meals is increasingly becoming a rarity.  This opens up opportunities in the foodservice industry for shareable plates, portable healthy foods that are individually wrapped and increased focus on making home delivery ordering easy for customers.