At 80 million strong, the Millennial generation is transforming retail baking with its foodie mentality, high expectations and sophisticated palettes. According to a recent IDDBA report, Millennials are more likely than any other group to shop specialty stores for bakery items, meaning retail bakers who are willing to put the time, effort and investment into Millennial marketing will find themselves enjoying a new revenue stream.

The Basics

Across the board, Millennials are smart, tech savvy, social and adventurous. They are more culturally aware and racially and ethnically diverse than previous generations. They also tend to be more food conscious and are careful with where they spend their dollars. They value time with friends and family.

But avoid the temptation to lump Millennials into a one-campaign-fits-all mentality when developing and marketing your baked foods. This generation boasts three subgroups, each with their own characteristics: Younger Millennials (ages 19-25), Middle Millennials (ages 26-30) and Older Millennials (ages 31-36). Bakers who create individualized promotions targeting each group will be more successful than those who stick with a generalized effort.

Evidence of this individuality surfaced in the results of a recent study conducted by Y-Pulse and The Culinary Visions Panel. The study revealed that Younger Millennials tend to forego regular meals, preferring instead to snack as they go about their day. Typically, they purchase those snacks, which include baked goods, on the go. Middle Millennials also purchase their snacks on the go, but do most of their snacking in the late afternoon. Older Millennials prefer mid-morning and late afternoon snacks and are more likely to pack snacks than purchase them while out and about.

Love Exciting and New

Millennials gravitate toward interesting and different foods. In 2013, they helped make the Cronut (croissant + donut) cool, and the mashup trend has sprouted creations such as the Croger (croissant + cheeseburger), Crookie (croissant dough + cookie), Croclair (croissant + Éclair) and Croffee (coffee-stuffed croissant). Seasonal baked goods and treats tailored just for them also resonate with this crowd.

At the same time, they crave ramped up flavors with global flair, which is not surprising considering their love of international travel. But there’s a catch. They prefer foods with locally-sourced ingredients, and they expect businesses to be transparent about their suppliers.

Create Experiences

While their tastes are sophisticated, keep in mind that Millennials place a higher value on new experiences than they do tangible items. They expect a range of choices and the option to customize whatever it is they want, be it a specific decoration on a cupcake or a certain filling or topping. They also tend to frequent businesses that operate with a “pay it forward” philosophy. In other words, they want to know that their money is contributing to a worthy cause locally, regionally, nationally or globally.

Retail bakers are in the perfect position to capitalize on these demands. On the local level, think about which area charities might lend themselves well to a partnership. Talk to your customers to find out what causes they support. Consider donating a portion of every sale to a local charity, or make it easy for customers to donate by following the “round up” trend in which customers have the option to round up to the next dollar at the register, with the extra change going to a local cause.

Become a Social Butterfly

Attracting Millennials goes way beyond having a quality product and a well-known brand. First, Millennials aren’t all that brand loyal. Second, they crave interaction. Savvy bakers know that social media is the Millennial meeting place, where frequent content sharing, two-way communication and fresh ideas can grow a business. 

Take Ant Roman, for example. This 20-year-old Millennial combined her interest in geek culture with her baking talents to create her own business, Nerdache Cakes, Fairview, NJ. Roman markets her cakes and cookies to other Millennials through Facebook, Twitter, tumblr and a YouTube channel. Regular postings that include personal comments and images of her latest creations engage customers and encourage them to join the conversation. Both strategies drive website traffic and sales for this online-only baker.  But this level of interaction comes with a side of caution: Millennials don’t like a hard sell. For them, it’s all about building relationships and identifying with a personality.

Millennial-style marketing requires a shift in thinking and the ability to adapt quickly to this generation’s ever-changing desires.  By zeroing in on the concepts of social, flavorful, different and  community-focused, you’ll be able to create a comprehensive marketing plan that will open new pathways for reaching one of the most influential generations the baking industry has seen in quite awhile.