Supermarkets, meanwhile, are stuck in a middle that is being hollowed out by choice and technology. “I don’t think we’ve seen shopping change so dramatically ever,” Marty Siewert, senior vice president for consumer and shopper analytics at Nielsen, told reporter Heather Haddon.
But this story reflects two universal truths about culture. First, many cultural changes for which Millennials are initially blamed really reflect broader trends affecting even the oldest consumers. Second, many cultural changes are really reversions to old norms.
So what’s the real story here? Yes, Millennials are shifting their spending toward restaurants and bars and away from grocers. But it’s not an unprecedented shift. They’re simply returning to their mid-aughts levels of restaurant spending.
Although it is always emotionally satisfying to blame young people for wrecking the world order, the shift in Millennial food preferences is not exclusive to Millennials. Using data from the Consumer Expenditure Survey, a division of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, here is a graph showing restaurant spending (technically: “food away from home”) as a percent of total food spending for older Millennials—25-34-year olds.