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Web Exclusive: College Gen Y-ers Set the Stage for Future Food Trends

Web Exclusive: College Gen Y-ers Set the Stage for Future Food Trends

Report finds students craving flavor, comfort, healthful choices, portability.

Today’s college campuses are a good crystal ball for the future of food, according to the recently released Collegiate Gen Y Eating: Culinary Trend Mapping Report by market research publisher Packaged Facts and strategic food and beverage innovation agency CCD Innovation.

The report focused on nearly 20 million 18- to 22-year olds who are currently attending college. They’re part of Generation Y, which by some counts is 73 million strong, with the oldest members just turning 30 and the youngest in junior high.

College students were singled out because of the way they’re exposed to new foods—through new friends, a new culinary region and increasingly, through innovative campus foodservice programs (“Executive chefs change menus daily, respond to student requests and consider a diverse population’s myriad needs,” the report found).

Their new habits will “likely remain long after graduation and become demands on and expectations about the food industry for decades to come,” says Kimberley Egan, CEO/principal, CCD Innovation.

A number of defining drivers rose to the surface of the report. Gen Y college students:

• Are nutritionally minded
• Crave flavorful foods
• Look for comfort and indulgence
• Need speed and convenience

In addition, seven clear themes emerged from the report. These include Dining Along the Meatless Spectrum, The Mighty Chickpea, Nut Butters: A Protein Pal, Fruit and Vegetable Discovery, Asian Love Affair, Italian and Mexican: Familiar Comfort, and On-the-Go Fare.

Dining Along the Meatless Spectrum

For many students, college is a time for new choices. “More students align themselves along the less-meat to meatless spectrum, from flexitarian to vegetarian to vegan and even raw diets,” according to the report. Many students’ new favorite foods are vegetarian and vegan, with such choices as beans and rice, tofu, legumes and veggie burgers being mentioned multiple times in the survey.

The Mighty Chickpea

The chickpea or garbanzo bean first came onto the college scene in the 1960s and 70s, and today’s college-aged vegetarians are discovering it as “inexpensive, versatile and packed with protein,” according to the report. It plays a role in popular cuisines such as Indian, Mediterranean, Latin and Middle Eastern. Hummus, of course, is very popular, and falafel, deep-fried nuggets of ground chickpeas are proving to be a highly flavorful and customizable choice as a snack food especially.

More college dining trends

Nut Butters: A Protein Pal

Even though today’s college students grew up “in a climate of peanut distrust due to the increase in children’s allergies,” they can now likely be found snacking on peanut butter right out of the jar. “I eat peanut butter out of the jar all the time,” responded one student. “It tastes good, is convenient, has little clean up, and satisfies my cravings.” The need for high-protein, good-tasting foods is creating demand for other nut “butters” as well—almond or cashew are also cited.

Fruit and Vegetable Discovery

At extensive salad bars across college campuses, students are discovering a whole new world of fruits and vegetables. Also driving some of the discovery are “well-established campus initiatives aimed at enlightening students to sustainable and local produce; on-campus farmers markets; organic gardens and produce-focused dining spots that literally bring the produce to the plate,” according to the report.

Asian Love Affair

Gen Y college students looking for spice adventure, comfort and health find what they’re looking for in flavorful Thai, Indian and other Asian cuisines, the report found. Flavor is the primary driver, but customization (with different proteins and fresh vegetables) is another draw to this cuisine. “We are witnessing a conversion moment, when students come to campus and discover international foods that will become beloved favorites for years to come,” the report states. Students crave “comforting Thai noodles, rich coconut milk curries and substantial Indian dishes.”

Italian and Mexican: Familiar Comfort

As adventurous as college students are, “sometimes a kid needs a little comfort.” While Italian and Mexican dishes like pasta, lasagna, pizza, burritos and tacos were once considered ethic fare, they’re now pretty much standard American cuisine. These two cuisines offer a lot of options, from heavy to light, sit-down or grab-and-go. The report predicts a growing demand for more regional varieties, more artisanal options and fresher, more healthful versions of Mexican and Italian stalwarts.

On-the-go Fare

The report found students again and again mentioning “portable,” “eat quickly,” and “eat as I walk to class” in descriptions of their “go-to” foods. The young people surveyed have a busy schedule, with little time for sitting in a dining hall. They are quite often looking for more varied and healthful portable snacks and meals. They gravitate to C-stores that offer yogurt, granola bars, instant oatmeal, sandwiches and pizza. The report found that “campus dining services are working hard to add more grab-and-go items like packaged sushi, pre-made sandwiches, cut fruit and salads, yet not all students have access to these, forcing them to fend for themselves off campus…or buying food during the day.”

The full report, Collegiate Gen Y Eating: Culinary Trend Mapping Report, is available from Packaged Facts, a division of For more information on obtaining the report, visit


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