Millennials and military meals - Insights

Millennials and military meals

soldier eatingMillennial’s who are in the military are an interesting demographic whose behaviour, culture and social norms are not widely observed nor reported on, yet they are a very important component of any military force. They are the ones charged with the defence of their countries – they  are the ones who are on active service fighting insurgents and terrorists in many places around the world and in peacekeeping roles in many others. They are often in uncomfortable places and in uncomfortable conditions where they are expected to be literally “fighting fit” and “fit to fight”. Does this make their preferences and expectations of their diet, nutrition and food habits any different from their civilian counterparts?

Is the food designed for the military, both in barracks and on operations, meeting the needs and expectations of the ‘military millennials’, as well as providing the necessary body fuels? This type of question that is being discussed at the Research and Development Associates, 70th Anniversary Spring Meeting and Exhibition held at Bedford Springs in Pennsylvania.

Clearly the answer is not a simple one. The millennial generation has developed food habits and cultures that are a product of their environment. They are conforming to the cultural norms of their generation and they have different expectations of the conventions that surround food. They are influenced by the same trends in food habits as the rest of the population, yet will often be considered to be different because they’re in the military. There are clear differences in lifestyle between the civilian and the military, between the  requirements of the military role and the physical requirements of health and fitness. Are these fundamental differences?  Probably not, but they could be considered to be additional factors that influence food behaviours.

It is important that the military is well fed on a diet that is nutritionally sound and that is going to  ensure that they are capable of meeting the physical and mental pressures of doing their job under stressful and difficult conditions. At the same time the ‘military millennials’  are still looking for the communication and social interactions that surround food culture. Eating has always been a family or group activity, almost the social glue that holds groups together. Social cultures, rituals and celebrations are built around the context of food. Food is the vehicle that encourages that sense of community and belonging.

How do you build that into what the military would call “feeding systems”, with its focus on product formulations, supply and delivery?  It is obviously difficult, but it is increasingly important that wider societal changes are recognised and the systems adapted to meet those changing needs. Millennials are more aware of the environmental impact of their personal decisions and choices in relation to food. “Farm to plate” initiatives, seeking authenticity in their food products, and understanding the origin, source and provenance of what they eat as well as the social conditions in which they eat it, are much more important to that generation than perhaps their predecessors.

One statistic from this conference that illustrates the point is that food brands are reducing in importance for the millennial generation. Only 48 percent of Millennials consider food brands to be important in making food choices, compared to 61 percent of the Baby Boomer generation. A rising number of independent restaurants and whole craft and artisan industries in food and beverage products (especially craft beers) are all finding ready consumers within the Millennial generation.

These may not be considered to be “disruptive”  trends, but they are good indicators. The military is not isolated from these trends and needs to be able to recognise change and embrace its implications. It needs to maintain the all-important balance in providing the  dietary lifestyle that military millennials are looking for and need to do their jobs, but in the wider social and cultural context of the meal experience.

This conference is not going to provide all of the answers, but it does enhance the discussion and demonstrates that far from being isolated and remote, the military and those directly associated with delivering the food to the military, are aware of the changing expectations and aspirations of the recruits for the armed services of both today and tomorrow.

Note: Peter Jones is attending the conference as a speaker and observer.

About the author

Peter JonesProfessor Peter A. Jones, MBE, is the Dean of the eHotelier Academy. With a distinguished career in hospitality, education and training, Peter has been involved with national and international projects with clients involved in hospitality education. Peter is a Director the Edge Hotel School and of Hotel Future, a new education and training initiative in Greater Manchester and is a Visiting Professor at the University of Derby. He was also awarded a Member of the Order of the British Empire for services to the hospitality industry.

You must be logged in to post a comment.
The iceberg is approaching: implications of changes to tips and service charges
Can hotels resist the invasion of the ‘room-raiders’?