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Millennials weigh in on what makes food brands authentic

Kind Bars and Honest Tea were among the top five authentic food and beverage brands named in a recent survey of millennials. See what qualities this generation of shoppers looks for.

Watershed Communications released findings from two national ethnographic studies examining the media habits of millennial food and beverage consumers. The "Media Habits of Millennials" study investigated whether social media and influencer marketing have eclipsed the impact of traditional editorial coverage. The "What Matters to Millennials" study set out to unpack the marketing buzzword "authenticity" and to learn what creates an authentic brand according to millennials.

As America's top food and beverage companies lose an estimated $4 billion in market share, the industry is trying to digest this dramatic power shift from trusting consumers to a new, highly engaged demographic. The Watershed studies were designed to help marketers understand how to build a stronger sense of trust with millennial consumers.

The Media Habits study found 84 percent of millennials feel they can easily describe, in one sentence, a food or beverage brand or product they just discovered. "It's more important than ever to make sure you are strategic in brand communications from the very beginning. While we found that millennials are still reading print magazines and newspapers, the key takeaway from the study was the speed at which this generation makes up their minds about a brand," says Lisa Donoughe, Watershed's principal and founder. "This generation is forming opinions about brands from the minute they read about them."

In the What Matters study, 100 percent of the millennials surveyed said they frequently purchase food and beverage brands they list as authentic. "The authenticity message is massive," says Alexia Howard, senior U.S. food analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein. The top five most mentioned authentic food and beverage brands (in order) are: Trader Joe's, Coca-Cola, Kind Bars, Honest Tea and Starbucks. "We were surprised by the millennial definition of authenticity," says Donoughe. "Millennials want simplicity and consistency—not just small, indie brands."

Based on the research, Watershed found six key pillars for building an authentic brand: compassion, community, customization, co-creation, consistency and conviction. In the world of food and beverage, millennials are instantaneous decision makers. It is necessary to be strategic in messaging and marketing at every turn.

Full details on the research can be viewed online at

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