Millennials contributed 89% of the growth in snack sales last year.

CHICAGO — It’s time to make friends with millennials. This misunderstood group of consumers contributed 89% of the growth in snack sales last year, according to Information Resources, Inc. (I.R.I.).

“Millennials are really impacting what’s happening in candy and even more profoundly what’s happening in snacks,” said Larry Levin, executive vice-president of insights and thought leadership at I.R.I., during a keynote presentation at the Sweets & Snacks Expo, held May 19-21 in Chicago. “We need to continue to connect with millennials in a way that creates products that meet their passions.”

More than half of shoppers born between 1980 and 1999 want to eat healthier, and 70% are willing to pay more for quality, Mr. Levin said.

“Quality to them doesn’t necessarily mean it’s coming from a big company,” he said. “It’s coming from a company they trust, and as a result of that, they are looking for customer reviews.”

Millennials’ expectations for products and services are changing the consumer landscape, said Tina Manikas, president of FCB/RED, a Chicago-based shopper marketing agency, during a separate presentation at the expo.

“You’ve got to get to know them because they represent a lot of spending today, and they represent almost a quarter of the population,” she said.

Ms. Manikas presented five ways in which millennials are influencing the future.

1. They seek more from work than paychecks.

With twice the turnover and half the tenure of other generations, millennials prioritize meaningful work and flexibility over high wages, Ms. Manikas said.

“They do want success in their careers and lives, but their path is non-linear and a series of experiences that make them happy that lead to that success,” she said.

2. They battle negative perceptions.

Millennials are perceived as savvy, entitled, narcissistic and dumb.

“Why do other generations say that?” Ms. Manikas said. “(Millennials) are a little misunderstood because a fifth of millennials are what we call ‘permachildren.’ They postpone having a baby, they postpone marriage or they move back in with their parents.”

Because of these perceptions, millennials are less trusting of traditional advertising and may be more likely to seek information from friends.

3. They are the new entrepreneurs.

Two out of three millennials believe they are too talented to punch a clock or sit in a cubicle, Ms. Manikas said.

“Two words that define their mindset is ‘pragmatic idealism,’” she said. “They want happiness, they want success, but they’re pragmatic about it… You have to think about that as you try to attract them to your brand or bring them to your store.”

4. How they define success matters.

Millennials rank happiness, passion, diversity, sharing and discovery higher than older generations, who prioritize justice, integrity, family, practicality and duty, Ms. Manikas said.

“We’ve always said innovation is hot, but now, more than ever with this generation, it’s more important,” she said.

5. They value experiences over things.

“By 2020, we expect for every $1 these consumers are paying for things, they will spend $3 on experiences,” Ms. Manikas said. “So, how do you turn your products and stores into new experiences?”

Millennials, who spend seven hours a day with digital devices and 11 hours a day with media content, demand convenience and accessibility.

“They have on-line expectations in an off-line world,” she said. “‘Shareworthy’ is the new currency…. Shareworthy means ‘It’s not that I like your brand; I share you because I like my friends.’”

What this means for the industry

These five insights have three implications for the food and beverage industry, Ms. Manikas said.

“First, millennials expect customized solutions, even from sweets and snacks,” she said. “Whether that be new products or some kind of differentiated offerings, different pack sizes, different things that engage them and attract them and make them think you’re thinking about them.”

Secondly, she said, the industry should plan for rapidly changing tastes and preferences.

“It goes back to that innovation piece,” she said. “It’s just like content on-line. You don’t make one piece of content that’s worth $500,000; you make many pieces of content and hope to keep attracting them over and over again.”

Third, marketing to millennials means marketing to their influencers.

“They are influenced by others,” she said. “That’s why you have to reach out socially.”