PORTLAND, ORE. – A lively discussion at the Research Chefs Association’s annual meeting and Culinology Expo focused on the impact of millennials on product development. The bottom line: Don’t believe the hype.

Maeve Webster, senior director of Datassentials, made several key points about the demographic, most notably that the age range is somewhat ridiculous – 18 to 34.

“You can’t say 18 year olds are making the same decisions as 34 year olds,” she said. “They don’t all exhibit the same behaviors.”

She added millennials are an extension of a much more macro trend that has transcended generations.

“Every successive generation sees their comfort zone expand,” she said. “Younger people today are more comfortable with a wider range of technologies and flavors than I was at their age. And I was more comfortable with those things than my parents were, and my parents were more comfortable than their parents.”

Andrew Hunter, the principal in the Chef Andrew Hunter group, called millennials a “demographic” and a “marketing group.”

“I don’t think you can call a group of consumers a trend,” he said.

Yet there are companies that do see millennials as a trend in the same vein as Gen X, Gen Y and baby boomers.

Millennials are a demographic that has purchasing power and different need states compared to other demographics, such as baby boomers. Food and beverage companies should invest the time and effort to market their brands to these consumers, but it may be a mistake to believe the population is anything more than the logical extension of consumer groups that have come before.

Ms. Webster put it best at the end of the panel discussion when she noted the widening sphere of influences and experiences that comes with each new generation is normal.

“There is nothing different about millennials than any other generation,” she said.