What Cereal and Coffee Teach Us About Millennials

This topic may sound random—but stay with me. We’re about to discuss a trend that can inform us what Millennials and Generation Z value.

Recently, an article ran in the New York Times about traditional breakfast favorites, and how we consume them. Among the most fascinating insights revealed in the report was this: Almost 40 percent of Millennials surveyed by Mintel in 2015 said cold cereal was an “inconvenient” breakfast choice.

“Why?” You may ask.

Because they had to clean up after eating it.

Perhaps I am missing something. It seems to me that breakfast cereal is among the easiest morning options one can choose. When I was in college, I sometimes ate it for breakfast, lunch, and even dinner. All it requires is a bowl, some milk and a spoon. Am I right? But, alas, times are changing.

The report suggests that the industry is struggling. Sales have tumbled almost 30 percent over the past 15 years, and cereal’s future remains uncertain. Why? Reasons did vary, including some young people saying:

  • I don’t have the time or energy to eat breakfast.
  • I am too busy, so I buy something on the way to school or work.
  • There are options that seem healthier, like yogurt.

But my favorite, popular reason for avoiding cereal was inconvenience. The clock is ticking. I have too many other priorities to tend to than my stomach. It’s just too hard to wash the dishes afterward. Bowls don’t wash themselves. It’s work. I want something that comes in a disposable carton.

Cereal is not the only indicator of this shift. Coffee’s another example. In the not-too- distant past, whole coffee beans were the bomb. Folks enjoyed grinding their beans and making a fresh cup of coffee for themselves. This trend is waning. Less than 10 percent of the coffee beans we now buy are fresh, whole beans. Pre-ground coffee isn’t just outselling the beans; it’s increasing its lead every year.

Further, we want the convenience of food delivery. The popularity of delivery illustrates the same predisposition toward convenience. Approximately 15 percent of restaurant meals are delivered each day, according to research from Technomic. Among Millennials, the percentage is higher—more like 20 percent. Fewer than 60 percent of dinners served at home were actually cooked at home last year. Only thirty years ago, this percentage was more like 75 percent.

What does this mean?


While we like to think of ourselves as authentic and healthy, we are pragmatic as well. If something is too hard or takes too much time and effort, we will jettison that option for an easier one. “Convenience is the one thing that’s really changing trends these days,” industry analyst Howard Telford said last year.

The Difference Between Smart and Lazy

To be clear—I like convenience as much as anyone else. I will make choices that make for a more convenient day, opting for something that’s faster, easier or less expensive. I am not against convenience when it’s smart and intentional. Most of us have so many priorities to juggle, we have to work smarter—not just harder.

What concerns me is this: I frequently drift toward convenience because I’m lazy. Sometimes I’ll choose a lazy option even when the decision sabotages something I claim to value. It happens too often in all of our lives. It begs the question: what do I cherish most—convenience or my values? This is a conversation we must have with our students. When does our desire for convenience eclipse our desire for family time? When does convenience override our integrity and ethics? When does convenience supersede our self-discipline? When does convenience prevail over our personal growth? When does convenience disregard our meaningful conversations? When does convenience cause us to ignore helping others? When does convenience outweigh pursuing a vision for a better tomorrow?

Questions for this Conversation…

  1. We say we value family time, but when it comes to practicing this value, do we all check our phones throughout our dinner time—instead of conversing?
  1. We say we value honesty and ethics—but at test time, do we find ways to cheat on the answers? Or at tax time, do we find ways to illegally hide income we’ve earned?
  1. We say we value serving people, but do we hide behind the newspaper on a flight—instead of helping an elderly person stow their bag in the top luggage bin?
  1. We say we want to be life-long learners, but in our free time, do we refuse to touch that pile of books, in lieu of watching mindless hours of TV shows?
  1. We say discipline is a priority, but do we stop going to the gym—and instead, spend time eating unhealthy comfort food?
  1. We say we value working toward a goal we first envisioned in college, but do we remain in our current job—only because it’s safe, secure, and we’re free from failure?

Here’s to living our values… even when it’s inconvenient.

What Cereal and Coffee Teach Us About Millennials