Sustainability has been a key subtheme of the “Millennialsʼ values” Supertrend since launch. Take food choices: while vegans remain a small minority in developed countries, Generation Y and Z are more likely to adopt a plant-based or vegetarian diet due to concerns about the environment and health. This cohortʼs evolving food preferences are influencing broader society, driving sales of meat and dairy alternatives. Now even well-known fast-food chains are testing plant-based meat and hamburgers on their menus. Millennials are also taking the lead in other areas, including subscriptionbased services.

Sustainable business and investments

Responsible consumers square the circle

Sustainability is fast becoming a priority for companies, driven by Gen Y’s and Z’s climate change concerns and increasing spending power. While some shoppers still give little thought to the environment, the ranks of the responsible consumer are growing. When making purchases such as food or clothing, these consumers seek to minimize their environmental footprint, including through recycling. They do not want their bottles of shampoo ending up in the ocean. Posts containing the words recycling or “plastic-free” are trending on social media.

Companies are responding with innovative solutions, albeit on a limited scale for now. A leading sporting goods company, for example, sells shoes made from plastic trash from the ocean. Many apparel companies have introduced sustainable collections, including ethically sourced and recycled materials. The food, beverage and consumer care industries aim to use more recycled plastics in their packaging, and to use more packaging materials that can be recycled. Consumer goods companies are working with retailers to collect goods such as shoes, apparel, or soap bottles after their use, while waste management companies are developing machines to collect such items for recycling. Resale and rental platforms that extend the life of apparel, including designer dresses and purses, are being launched. 

These many small steps are leading to the development of a larger circular economy in which companies design goods in a way that every part has value and can be recycled or reused. This stands in stark contrast to the current “take-make-waste” linear economy, as described by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a charity that is working with businesses, governments and academics to accelerate the transition to a circular economy that would reduce waste and carbon dioxide emissions. It is an immense challenge. The world burns or sends the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles to a landfill every second, while the production and use of goods and food account for 45% of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. While the consumer goods sector is among the first to embark on this revolution, other industries including mining and construction will need to follow. 

Circular economy

Source Credit Suisse

Digital natives

Subscriptions rule

Besides closely monitoring their social media accounts, the daily habits of Gen Y and Gen Z include listening to music, streaming videos and gaming. Most of these activities are subscriptionbased, reflecting a long-term shift in consumer behavior toward subscription-based content, products and services.

Digital content consumption has been at the forefront of the move toward subscription-based models and has significantly benefited from this trend. The success of the music streaming business, which has reshaped the music industry in recent years, is one example. After 15 straight years of decline until 2014, the global music industry is growing again. The trend is equally strong in the video streaming industry, with a shift to direct-to-consumer subscriptions and a decline in US pay TV subscribers, where penetration of households is down from 84% in 2014 to 74% in 2019, according to the US Census Bureau and Credit Suisse estimates. Competition is picking up with top-tier tech players entering the subscription video streaming space.

In light of heightened regulation with regards to personal data, and with personal data better-protected within subscription models (e.g., credit card data is entered on one occasion and users can choose how their personal data is used), the adoption of subscription models should further accelerate and push beyond the music and video industries. For example, subscription models are making inroads with product and services companies: one large internet retailer provides preferential terms to its subscribers when they buy goods, which has led to an increase in the average basket size. More retailers are following in these steps. In addition, companies providing dating, ride hailing and other services also offer preferential terms or pricing for subscribers. 

Millennials app world
Social media

Online advertising accounts for 50% of media spend globally

Video streaming

Netflix penetration of US households amounts to 50%. Pay TV penetration is down from 84% in 2014 to 74% in 2019

Music streaming

Global (ex China) audio subscribers will double between 2018 and 2023.

Video gaming

Game streaming subscribers are expected to grow over 40x in the next 10 years.


Adoption had risen to 4% in the USA in 2018 of a total addressable market of USD 745bn.

Brands app

In 2019, Nike Direct (sales through own stores and own app) amounted to 32% of Nike brand sales.

Education online

Proportion of Chinese K12 students paying for online tutoring is expected to soar from 2.9% in 2016 to 23.4% in 2020.

Food delivery

The global consumer food services addressable market is estimated to be USD 795bn.

Source Magna Global; Netflix; Newzoo; Frost & Sullivan; Credit Suisse

IoT and AI should further deepen the connection between subscription models and digital ecosystems, creating a circular economy for service applications. For example, consumers could receive a pair of shoes for an annual subscription fee and exchange them for a new pair the next year, or subscribers could receive an electronic device that is maintained and recycled by a servicing company.

Fun, health and leisure

Growing potential for plant protein

Millennials are mindful of greenhouse gas emissions and the impact they have on our planet. As health is another priority for this group, healthy and sustainable food is on the rise.

Critics are increasingly targeting meat as an issue for both the environment and human health. Meat production is responsible for 58% of food-related greenhouse gas emissions (see chart on the next page). Separately, the World Health Organization has classified processed meat as carcinogenic to humans, while a 2020 study published in the Jama Internal Medicine journal found that the consumption of processed meat, unprocessed red meat and poultry was “significantly” associated with cardiovascular disease.

A 2019 report commissioned by the leading medical journal The Lancet developed a “planetary health diet” that aims to improve human health, while ensuring environmentally sustainable food production for a future global population of 10 billion people. The report – a three-year collaboration between scientists in areas ranging from environmental sustainability, agriculture, political science and health – recommends cutting red meat and sugar consumption, increasing intake of fruits, vegetables and nuts, and adding plant protein to diets. The recommendations also include a shift toward enhanced biodiversity in terms of crops, sustainable expansion of agriculture, reduction of food waste in production and consumption, and stricter rules for protecting oceans. “Food is the single strongest lever to optimize human health and environmental sustainability on earth,” according to the report from the EAT-Lancet Commission.

Proportion of total greenhouse gas emissions from food

Source Poore & Nemecek (2018), Danone, Credit Suisse

We are thus seeing the rise of meat and dairy alternatives. The plant-based protein market, helped by the development of increasingly tasty products, has huge potential. In the USA, for example, plant-based milk products account for 13% of the overall milk category, according to a 2019 report from the Plant Based Foods Association. While consumers in the USA and Europe are familiar with these products, the Asian market has yet to be conquered, which should lead to further strong growth. More recently, media attention has turned to plant-based meat options, such as burgers or sausages, and if we see a similar development as for dairy products, plant-based meat could conquer 10% of the meat market. Consumers are also pushing for food that is low in sugar and additives. In response, traditional food companies are investing in innovation to alleviate market share losses. Ingredients companies, which are bringing novel solutions to food manufacturers, are well-positioned to benefit from this trend.