What are Millennials Craving?

Interview with West Virginia University Student Hillary Long
By Kristyn Zylka

Millennials have quite an appetite! With the purchasing power of more than 80 million individuals, it is no surprise that their eating habits are being closely watched by the food industry. In terms of food trends, perhaps no other generation is more obsessed with snacking than the 18-24 year old demographic. Unlike their parents and grandparents who were used to having three square meals per day, millennials enjoy snacking between meals, and sometimes snack throughout the entire day. They are the main reason why the global snack market is expected to grow by 7% per year through 2015.

With 5 million college age students at more than 650 campuses, nationwide, BNCM wanted to get the real “Beat on the Street”, so we reached out to our millennials, and asked them, “What are you craving?”

BNCM interviewed Hillary Long, a Second Year Master’s Degree Student in English Literature at West Virginia University, and asked her about her “Millennial Cravings”.

BNCM: As a full-time student, how would you describe your eating habits and snacking habits?

HL: My eating habits have changed a lot since I started college. My Mom was a wonderful cook, so I was used to home cooked meals growing up. My freshman year away at school was like a “second childhood” for me. I ate whatever I wanted. I developed really poor eating habits – lots of food with high sugar and high fat content. I began not feeling well because I was not eating right. So I decided to try to seek out healthier food options.
Now, as a graduate student, I am living off campus and I try to cook more at home, in my kitchen. Buying food and snacks can get expensive, so I have to be very conscious of my choices.

BNCM: What are your greatest challenges with eating healthy away at school?

HL: I have a very busy schedule with my graduate classes, research in the library, and a part time job at the bookstore. There is no time for a sit down meal – especially for breakfast and lunch. I am a self proclaimed snacker. I like sweet snacks and chocolate snacks. It’s tempting to grab something quick that may not be the healthiest choice.
Now, since I am more likely to read labels and seek out healthy options – avoiding things like trans fats and other artificial ingredients, I can “graze” all day. My purse is a veritable “Mary Poppins Bag” of snacks ranging from cereal, muffins, and nuts to fresh fruits and veggies.

BNCM: Do you have a favorite go-to healthy snack? What’s the easiest way for you to grab a healthy lunch?

HL: I used to grab a Pop Tart every morning. Since I want to make healthier choices, I have been trying to eat more nuts and dried fruits lately. Now, KIND Bars are my favorite go-to healthy snack. I LOVE THEM! I first tried them at the bookstore. They are my favorite granola bar in the world! I like the fact that they have a low calorie count, the small portion size really fills me up, and since they are chock full of healthy nuts and grains, I know I am putting “good fuel” into my body. I also admire what they are doing with the organic movement by sourcing organic ingredients.
KIND Bars have been part of a free sampling program at the bookstore. Many students come into the bookstore to by a notebook, a textbook or school supplies, but they are very excited when they get anything free at the register, especially a full size sample product. When we have free samples, we have a lot of excited customers. Many of the students who did not previously know about KIND, now love the product and buy it at the bookstore on a regular basis. I am one of them!

BNCM: What is the best little know secret about Barnes & Noble College bookstores?

HL: I think the bookstore has changed a lot over the past few years. It has become a greater gathering place on campus. The Café provides a great atmosphere and also gives students a place to relax, and grab a healthy sandwich or hot coffee on their way to class.
Also, since I work at the bookstore, I know that the store managers go to great lengths to really listen to customers, and “keep it local”, in terms of merchandise, books and our social media outreach. It is the personal attention and the great sense of community that makes our bookstore unique.

About Hillary


Hillary is a second year English Literature Master’s student at West Virginia University (Let’s Go Mountaineers!). She is a self proclaimed book hoarder who adores everything literary from the classic works of such authors as Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Oscar Wilde and O. Henry, to more contemporary authors like Phillipa Gregory and Toni Morrison. She hopes to one day use her master’s degree to teach and share her love of literature with others. She has worked for Barnes & Noble for 5 years.  She is active in Russian and French clubs, She has studied abroad in both Romania and the Czech Republic, became president of WVU’s English honorary Sigma Tau Delta, and has been inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. In her spare time she is working on getting her pilot’s license and she loves attending WVU football games, hiking and camping, cooking, internationally traveling, and of course curling up with a good book!

New Laptop Program Helps Students Choose the Perfect Fit

For students getting ready to head off to college, few purchases are more important than the personal computer. From researching and writing papers to staying connected to family and friends, a computer or tablet is a must-have item for academic and social success on campus. With so many options to choose from, how does a student go about choosing the right one? With product descriptions reading in terms like processor speeds, RAM, gigabytes and other technology lingo, it’s enough to frustrate just about anyone.

Fortunately, Barnes & Noble College made that decision a little easier by offering a crash course in what’s most important to keep in mind when choosing a laptop or tablet. This new educational program recently launched across 40 campuses via eye-catching, in-store displays, signage and other collateral that simplifies common tech terms and offers tips for making the best buying decision.

Finding Your Perfect Fit

With a focus on four main functions – speed, memory, storage and style – Barnes & Noble College worked with its laptop and tablet vendors to identify which features best fit various work and life styles, and how each model ranks in terms of those attributes. Each function was given its own easily identifiable icon, so that once students understand what kind of device they might need, they can simply look at the tags on each model to see which one matches best.

“Not all students and parents are knowledgeable in the tech space, so choosing a personal computer for the first time can be overwhelming,” said Tamara Vostok, Manager, Consumer & New Media Marketing for Barnes & Noble College “Through this new program, the campus store can help them decide which machine is going to be the best for them based on their unique habits, preferences and needs.”

For example, video editors, photographers or gamers who toggle from program to program as they work and play may want to invest in a laptop with a quick, powerful processor. Multitaskers who thrive on writing papers, listening to music and checking in on social media all at the same time should look into a device with plenty of memory. Those with large music collections may want something with ample storage space, whereas smaller storage will be just fine for those who choose to stream music more often. And best yet, students don’t have to sacrifice style for efficiency these days – even the slimmest, smallest devices boast plenty of battery life and computer power.

Exceptional In-Store Expeiences

Students at Niagara County Community College (NCCC) in Sanborn, New York, found the program to be incredibly helpful. “Our students really took to this program,” said Bob Puma, bookstore manager at the Barnes & Noble at NCCC campus store ”The in-store displays and informational signage were so helpful and really made it easy for students to compare and choose the technology that works best for them.”

While students typically purchase their laptops or tablets at the beginning of the school year, Puma said he saw a significant jump in sales in the spring semester. “We have a very defined window when students purchase their learning materials and technology at the beginning of each semester, so this program allowed us to really help students get everything they need – including laptops or tablets – use their financial aid and start the semester off on the right foot,” he said. “Since implementing this new program, our sales jumped 2.3 percent over last year – and I expect our fall semester to be even better.”

Expanding Beyond Textbook Support

Barnes & Noble College campus stores are committed to acting as a social and academic ally for students through initiatives like I Speak Textbook, a program that launched earlier this year to help students better navigate the textbook purchasing process by educating them about the campus store’s offerings. The program uses engaging and humorous sketch videos, VIP Shopping Nights, emails, social media and more to ensure that students have all the information they needed to help them succeed academically.

Vostok sees this new laptop program as an extension of that initiative: “This fall we really focused on making sure that students understood their textbook options and how the campus store could be a resource for them,” she said. “So that made us want to look at other areas – like technology – where we could help our students make the best purchasing decisions. Students have enough stress in their lives, so our aim is to offer programs that can make the decision-making process as easy as possible.”

Building a Brand Experience on Campus

The Millennial generation is having a conflicting time with brands. Although accustomed to seeing Taylor Swift promoting Diet Coke and Cover Girl, or Beyoncé and David Beckham endorsing Pepsi and H&M, they are at the same time the most savvy, mindful and skeptical generation that is also acutely aware of when they’re being sold to. It’s prompted Michele Serro, writing in Entrepreneur, to state “(Millennials) are extremely impatient with irrelevant information, and they have no tolerance for unwieldy experiences.”

As a former associate partner at leading youth marketing consulting firm IDEO, Serro has studied Millennials extensively and found that reaching them effectively requires a holistic approach – one where the message is inseparable from the product or service. “The product is everything.” Serro says, “You don’t slap marketing on afterwards.”

Ensuring that partner brands bring the marketing ingredients to ignite their discerning and hard-to-influence students is a task that falls to Barnes & Noble College Marketing. As a group of experts who know how to provide meaningful brand experiences, we act as gatekeepers, brand advocates, and specialists on the subject of Millennials.


“For the kinds of brands we introduce to our students, marketing has to be about a meaningful narrative,” explains Barnes & Noble College’s Marie Policastro, Manager, Partnership Marketing. “It’s about where we can provide the best value for our students and a return on investment, lead generation or sales for our partners,” she explains. That philosophy has yielded big successes for a carefully chosen roster of clients, from American Express to Hulu, from Cosmopolitan magazine to Samsung. The partner brands benefit from access to a universe of students and alumni through Barnes & Noble College’s growing social media and e-marketing network, and through experiential marketing – compelling in-store experiences that build a one-on-one connection with students.

As a team, we have amassed 250 unique school attributes that correspond directly to our college stores. These attributes are designed to help our partners target the most relevant student population and university culture for their specific brand. “Currently, our focus is on distinct categories – technology, automotive, health and beauty, and food and beverage – because we see tremendous opportunities in those kinds of product areas,” Policastro says. Ensuring that the brands and promotions are relevant and authentic to the student experience is a key component to the success of the partnerships. “We want to partner with companies who are marketing to students in a different and exclusive way,” says Policastro. “We’re looking for brands that want to establish a long-term partnership in a holistic, integrated way,” she adds.

Examples of those kinds of programs might include exclusive offers and discounts, and touch students throughout different times of the year using a variety of channels. In addition to the digital programs, campus bookstores also play an essential role in helping to provide a satisfactory brand experience, with staff acting as brand advocates who can demonstrate the benefits of a program. “When you’re a college freshman, it’s really the first time you’re making any kind of branding decisions on your own,” points out Senior Partnership Marketing Specialist, Stacey Merkin. “By sampling and offering free-trials we can invite students to try different experiences from those products they’ve known and grown up with.”


Working with different partners, our Barnes & Noble College Marketing team ensures that the ways students experience their programs is creative and compelling. American Express developed a pre-paid Campus Edition card, exclusively for Barnes & Noble College students, enabling them to pay bills or transfer money without fees. Chevrolet launched a Chevy test-drive program, to build brand awareness of their affordable vehicles with graduating seniors in a sweepstakes that generated over 75,000 entries.

Another brand interested in the graduate market has been women’s fashion retail brand Ann Taylor who, this year, will debut a promotion for graduation with exclusive discounts to help seniors develop their professional look for the job marketplace. Other brands seem perfectly matched for the Millennial psyche, such as GoBank, who promoted their virtual banking app with free banking in time for last year’s fall semester. “Students really love those kinds of services,” says Merkin, who points to significant acquisition for GoBank.


With a strong 2013 back-to-school season, and significant business growth this year, BNCM is poised to continue offering great value for students and our branding partners alike. “What we are trying to create is an engaging and dynamic shopping experience for our millennial customers,” says Merkin. “Students are drawn to a retail environment where they can learn about new products, try out the new Windows 8 software platform, experience a mini-makeover from Cosmopolitan magazine, or taste a sample of 5-Hour Energy drink, all within the familiar environment of their college bookstore,” she adds. “We strive to continue surprising our students by bringing those experiences to life in the campus store — helping them to see that we’re more than just the place to get textbooks.”

Technology Provides a Recipe for Freshness

Since the invention of the plough, or even the millstone, technology has always played an important role in what we eat and how we eat it. It has also had a significant impact on how our foods are prepared, stored and presented, and this can provide new opportunities for consumers hungry for the next big thing in food. If recent years have seen the advent of hybrid anomalies such as the Cronut, Turducken and the Megaburgerpizza, Barnes & Noble College campus stores around the country are taking full advantage of some of the benefits technology is now providing to offer students fresher food choices and greater convenience.

Hybrids And Unlikely Flavor Pairings

Mindful of the discerning tastes of her Millennial student customers, Lisa Shapiro, Director, Café & Convenience for Barnes & Noble College, doesn’t rate some of the recent food hybrid novelties, such as the Cronut, as a massive success on campus. “Some of those kinds of foods have limited lifespans and can be very regional in their appeal,” she says, acknowledging that the croissant-doughnut hybrid has enjoyed little success outside of its East Coast origins. And while she can point to some interesting flavor combinations such as the Snickers-flavored brownies, which are currently very popular items in campus stores, her main focus for the over 70 Barnes & Noble College cafes and convenience stores is to try to develop a well-established core of popular fresh foods and baked good staples.

This isn’t to say that students aren’t adventurous in their tastes. “At Rutgers, our students are always ready to try something trendy or quirky,” points out Rutgers University Bookstore General Manager, Len Oser. “One line that we’re really seeing sell well is a candy bar with Hunger Games packaging,” he says, adding that the success of the line can be attributed as much to the bacon infused chocolate as it has to do with the on-trend packaging.

Wider Range Of Food Options

Unusual hybrids aside, Shapiro maintains that food technology does play an important role in supplying her stores with a wider range of food options. “A lot of the technologies we’re seeing in the food industry now are more familiar in Europe where they’ve been established for some time, but it means we can now provide a wider range of shelf stable products and therefore greater choices for our customers,” she says. Examples of those kinds of products include items such as hummus or fresh pickles sealed in a bag for freshness, which represent both high quality and greater convenience for the customer. It’s a phenomena right on trend with student preferences, and research by Packaged Facts suggests that, with limited cooking skills, millennials are a group ‘most likely to consume pre-cooked yet fresh retail meals.’ “It’s all about the packaging,” Shapiro agrees, but adds that technology can also help with food display and presentation.

Barnes & Noble College stores vary greatly in terms of size and floor layouts, and enhancements in food technology means that a wider range of products can now be presented without the need of bulky refrigerators or temperature controlled displays. “It allows us to offer more food choices in a limited shelf space,” Shapiro points out. Improved distribution is also supported by technology. Rutger’s Oser points to a line of York Street Catering sandwiches, wraps and salads that are big sellers in his store. Upscale and high quality products, their freshness is guaranteed by regular deliveries throughout the week. And it’s not just local products that benefit from distribution technologies. “Students are also really taking to Asian products, such as Hi-Chu candies from Japan, and Panda and Yan Yan cookies,” Oser maintains.

Small Is Beautiful

Food technology can also support lifestyle changes and, as the hectic life of students has led to the growth of snacking habits at the cost of traditional mealtimes, it’s no surprise that one of the biggest trends in food technology is actually quite small. “It’s about anything bite-sized,” Shapiro says. Last year, one in five best-selling new foods were either bite-sized or handheld, a trend that extends to both sweet and savory and has even prompted restaurants to add bite-sized foods to their menus. What’s the next big trend in food retailing? While Pepsi-infused Cheetos or Teriyaki Burritos might grab the headlines, the most significant trend in food technology is likely to be all about greater freshness and more consumer choice.