A research by Sodexo, a global food and facilities management company with a significant presence in India, studied food habits of urban millennial consumers in India, China and Australia. The study was a mix of qualitative and quantitative research. It looked at general food consumption as well as food habits in the office environment. The study identified several types of food consumers. The first type is food indulgers who seek variety in what they consume. They are fond of different cuisines but are also focused on taste. They could compromise on variety for superlative taste—a characteristic more defined among consumers in China. Indians on the other hand seek more variety than taste.

Vineeta Tikekar, marketing director (corporate services) of Asia Pacific at Sodexo, says while their research focused on food at work, it also got some insights on the general attitude to food. “Eating at the cafeteria is a way of taking a break, meeting colleagues and in all this, food helps. Convenience, speed and value are the key attributes for food at work," she says.

The second consumer type identified in the Sodexo research is the health-conscious consumer. These people define health food in terms of ingredients, cooking methods and nutrition. Taste and variety takes a back seat in comparison with health benefits. These consumers are constantly searching for information on the latest wonder foods. This trend is well established in Australia, pretty big in China and now growing in India, the report said.

Tikekar says health is uppermost in the minds of a certain segment. “And health is not simply the availability of healthy options to eat such as soup or salad. Healthy includes all aspects of everyday cooking such as the use of oil, appropriate portions, quality of ingredients etc," she says.

The third consumer category are pragmatists who eat to satiate hunger. They look for consistency in taste but do not miss variety. They look at food from a value perspective. This segment is fairly big both in India and China.

The study also identified the assurance-seekers as a category which covered those who read labels and other information on food. They seek insights on the food and beverage being served through various means (online or through apps). The trend is established in Australia and increasing in India and China.

Last but not the least is the multiple-demand diner: They look for experience rather than just food, and feel that food should be able to satisfy all the senses and also be shared as an experience. Such consumers require all needs to be met equally at the same time. Tikekar says that consumers have become more demanding and vocal about their needs. They are looking for great food and experiences and are willing to experiment. They seek authenticity in the cuisines be it international or local.

To be sure, at work, the millennial consumers are seeking easier, faster and simpler experiences. Office-goers look for variety in their food and prefer rotation between different cuisines.

At office cafeterias, both in India and China, consumers are looking for branded (food chain) options—both local and global. The food delivery formats could also vary—like a cafe, a deli, a self-service or a take-away option. They expect a more varied and immersive environment in office canteens. Clearly, the way we eat has changed. Emotionally intelligent spaces help beat stress, create happiness and help people socialize. Food is no longer only about taste, it is about the end-to-end experience—from a moment of hunger to sharing the food review, the report said.

Tikekar agrees that consumers today are well travelled and are demanding variety in food and experiences. “They seek variety in a cafeteria—not just in cuisine and tastes but also textures and methods of cooking," she says. However, she points out that during lunch, a majority of the consumers still like to have the traditional thali. Chinese food is also popular. Although consumers also enjoy Italian, Mexican and other cuisines, their frequency is lower. Authentic regional cuisines are keenly sought. “Especially in the IT companies, there is a lot of movement of staff owing to their work—so even in the South, you would find a sizeable population from the North and vice versa. And the service providers need to cater to the different palates," says Tikekar. Over the years, office canteens have evolved. Organisations now view cafeterias as places where employees come together and collaborate and also interact with each other beyond their department silos.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.