Stop Trying To Dissect Millennials


At risk of sounding too millennial, part of my daily social media routine is to watch some of the Featured Stories on SnapChat. BuzzFeed is one I almost always watch because it gives me comic relief in an otherwise grim news-world.

This one day BuzzFeed posted a LOL-categorized story called “17 Times Millennials Really F*cked Up in 2016.” Looking for a good chuckle, I read it, and one particular example that came from BusinessInsider had the title, “Millennials are killing the napkin industry.”

I genuinely wanted to learn more about the hilarity and insight that BusinessInsider had to share about Millennials opting for paper towels over paper napkins, so I Googled it to read the entire thing. It was short. There were literally two reasons why, and I agree with both wholeheartedly: paper napkins are a less economical choice and “it’s one more thing to buy,” Georgia Pacific marketing director aptly observed.

But within this short article, it referenced a Mintel study who found that eating cereal is too much work for millennials. Curious, I clicked the link that redirected to another BusinessInsider article making this conclusion.

Just then I felt the largely invisible and undefined knot in the back of my mind take shape, and I suddenly have loads of feelings about people trying to define and understand my generation. To use the words of Outkast, “Now we gonna break this thang down for just a few seconds.”

I want to make a few caveats up-front. I love cereal, and it’s clear the author has clearly done her research as she has pulled data from Mintel, received a quote from a Kellogg’s marketer, found sales stats, and has learned how to use Instagram. I’ll give her credit for this, but she has not used basic anthropological skills to truly understand the stance millennials have on cereal.

First of all, the article starts off by demeaning millennials. The title is, “Millennials aren’t eating cereal because it’s too much work,” and the URL path is “millennials-are-too-lazy-to-eat-cereal.”

Second, they quote Mr.-Kellogg-Marketer who says, “Cereal used to be the only breakfast option.” So there you go: Millennials are choosing between more breakfast options than just cereal. And back to my original caveat that I in fact love cereal, maybe I OD’d on it because it was the only breakfast option for years: “do you want Special K, Frosted Mini Wheats or Lucky Charms?” was how my mother presented my breakfast options before school each morning.

Third, they talk about how dumb it is that Millennials will spend time waiting for a new food trend, like rainbow bagels, but won’t take the time to clean a bowl of cereal, which infers that, as the title already suggests, we are inherently lazy. Or, maybe it’s just that we are interested in something new and creative, like a beautiful rainbow bagel. As a generation, we are much more creative and entrepreneurial, so it’s only natural for us to seek out beautiful foods.

Fourth, they credit a recent increase in cereal sales to using cereal as an ingredient rather than a meal, and therefore subsisting our craving for social media affirming situations. The article says, “no one is going to Instagram a simple bowl of cereal.” News flash: millennials aren’t the ones over-sharing on social media, especially over-sharing food. Sure, we did a lot of that in 2012 (when cereal sales were still up), but that’s the generation older than us who were late-comers to Facebook, and who now want to share every minute of their lives, and believe everyone else wants a play-by-play of their breakfast, carpool, laundry pile, and terrible sit-com of the night. Nope, that ain’t us.

Fifth and final counter, is the simple fact that cereal isn’t healthy. They note that more people are eating breakfast and that there are more breakfast options, so why would we choose cereal when it’s just carbs, sugar and milk? According to one Goldman Sachs data story on millennials, we are “exercising more, eating smarter and smoking less than previous generations,” and are therefore healthier than Boomers and Gen X.

So let me put into words what that newly formed knot is saying to me: I am sick and tired of people blaming millennials for not fitting into expected consumer patterns. In reality we are less lazy, more creative, healthier, and more entrepreneurial than any generation before us. We are the next leaders of the free world, and these people trying to define and shape us had better change their tune.