Suzanne Henson

Mission Moment: Millennials changing food trends, benefits everyone

Millennials are driving trends in the food industry, but those changes can help everyone, said Suzanne Henson, a registered dietitian at University Medical Center, which is operated by the College of Community Health Sciences.

Henson, also assistant professor in the College’s Department of Family, Internal, and Rural Medicine, gave the first presentation of the spring 2019 OLLI Mini Medical School lecture series. The series, which continues weekly through March 3, held on Tuesdays from noon to 1 pm at the Bryant Conference Center on The University of Alabama campus and open to the public, is a partnership of the College and UA’s OLLI program.

Henson’s January presentation was titled, “New Year, New Habits, New Foods.”

She said millennials, those born between 1981 and 1996, according to the Pew Research Center, and aged 22 to 37, are the largest segment in the US workforce and they want two key things: healthier food and easier eating.

Among the trends they are driving – and grocery stores and other businesses are working to deliver: convenience, customization and healthy food. Henson said millennials want convenient grab-and-go food from the grocery store, like hard-boiled eggs and fresh prepared meals. They want meal kits that can be ordered online and delivered to the home, and shopping and food delivery services like Shipt, Instacart, Ubereats and Waitr. They want foods that are natural, organic, locally sourced and made with earth friendly practices and sustainable packaging.

Henson said millennials also spend more of their budget eating out or eating take-out than cooking and eating at home, so restaurants and fast-casual chains have increased healthier options and delivery services.

She said these developments can benefit everyone. When people order online, they get only what they order; in grocery stores, there are more opportunities to make impulse decisions. Restaurants and fast-casual chains have improved their menu options, making many of them healthier.

Even grocery stores have embraced the changes, offering more simplified foods (low sugar, fewer ingredients), plant-sourced meat (quinoa burgers) and pre-packaged meals that can be prepared or microwaved at home.

“We can make these trends and things millennials are demanding work for us,” Henson said.

The Mini Medical School lecture series has been presented by faculty physicians at the College since 2016. The program provides opportunities to explore trends in health and medicine and the lectures offer important information about issues and advanced in medicine and research. OLLI, short for Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, is a member-led program catering to those aged 50 years and older and offers educational courses, field trips and special events.

Upcoming Mini Medical School lecture topics include vaccines for seniors, colon cancer screening, diabetes and sports concussions and CTE.