As the largest living generation, millennials’ food preferences are driving industry trends more than ever. “Supermarkets are raising the bar on their foodservice offerings and by doing so are attracting the attention of the coveted millennials,” stated a recent report from NPD Group.

The sushi industry in particular is capitalizing on millennials’ penchant for ethnic foods and prepared meals that are local, creative, and sustainable.

Hissho Sushi, one of the largest U.S. providers of sushi, has found that millennial and Generation Z shoppers want innovative, authentic flavors that are fresh, healthy and satisfying options, and in particular, they want more sushi. Hissho is, according to Breana Jones, the company’s marketing director, “leading the charge on delivering these premium rolls and menu items that younger consumers crave.”

To ensure their products get to millennials, Hissho is making sushi more widely available where millennials are found: “their neighborhood grocery store, the hospital they work in, the airport they’re flying out of, their college campus, and even the stadium where their favorite NFL football team plays. We’re bringing our premium, high-quality sushi directly to them, where they work, live and play.”

To gain a deeper understanding of the millennial market in 2019, sushi companies like FujiSan are also expanding to universities and working to reach within college campuses by increasing social media presence, raffles, and free giveaways. According to Alexis Meruelo, business development manager with FujiSan, “We are starting to see a huge increase in millennial buying power as consumers. Some of the key trends that are on the horizon for 2019 include paleo diets, gluten-free options, vegan options, and a strong emphasis on sustainably sourced seafood.”

Feeding over 60,000 students a year through innovation, research, and development, sushi producer FujiSan prides itself on fun and exciting products that allow millennials to try authentic foods in novel ways. Accordingly, FujiSan is excited to launch sushi doughnuts next year. 

Genji, another premium provider of sushi and Japanese cuisine, is also appealing to millennials by “leading the charge to making pan-Asian cuisine available at retail,” says Josh Onishi, CEO and president of Hana Group North America, which owns the Genji brand.

“For the millennial in need of a quick and healthy meal who maybe doesn’t like sushi, we have a line of heat and eat products called Wok Street, available in the refrigerated case at select Genji locations. The familiar dishes like General Tso’s chicken and lo mein are great because a lot of millennials and Gen Zers say they want to make a home-cooked meal but simply don’t have the time.”

Genji is also aiming to cater to millennials through its sushi offerings by introducing rolls made with a broader selection of ingredients. In 2019, Genji will add five new rolls to its lineup, two of which are made with chicken.

Alongside protein alternative sushi trends, the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) recently debuted “Beefshi,” a concept using prepared beef products like roast beef, corned beef, pastrami, bologna, and hot dogs as sushi rolls. 

“Beefshi is a concept we designed with millennials in mind” says Eric Mittenthal, vice president of public affairs for NAMI. “We wanted to help millennials think about these products in a new and delicious way. Beefshi also taps into millennial interest in international cuisine.  Particularly for many people who might not enjoy raw seafood, Beefshi makes sushi more accessible for more people.”

NAMI is currently working alongside beef councils in states around the country to develop rolls with state specific themes, such as their 2018 rolls the “Inside Out Wisconsin Maki,” “Carolina Roll,” and “Texan Roll” that tied in flavors popular in those states. NAMI will be releasing eight new rolls in 2019. “There is a lot more opportunity to expand the ideas to additional states for 2019,” Mittenthal says.

Hissho is focused on other protein alternatives such as plant-based protein. In 2019, Hissho will bring to market its own innovative, plant-based protein ingredient: N’Ahi. Hissho’s specially-trained chefs will use N’Ahi in place of tuna for two classic rolls: the TNT Roll and the Spicy Pepper Roll. N’ahi is a roasted red bell pepper that “packs a flavorful punch and provides a velvety-textured substitute that even non-vegetarians can enjoy.”

According to Onishi, Genji also expects an increasing number of consumers to seek healthier options in 2019. “Millennials tend to be more health conscious than previous generations, and we’ve been developing new products that cater to various dietary preferences.”

All five new rolls Genji hopes to launch in early 2019 can be made with brown rice or quinoa brown rice for an extra boost of nutrition. Another millennial behavior Genji plans to hone into, Onishi says, is their social media use.

“This is the social media generation. The complex artfulness of Genji’s new rolls makes them extremely Instagram-worthy. All our sushi is rolled and dressed to perfection, but we expect millennials in particular to be drawn to the “wow factor” of the new products.”

While millennials have diverse palettes, they broadly tend to demand that a company be committed to sustainability, from sourcing ingredients to packaging and transit. According to FujiSan, “There are growing statistics and research proving that in the near future, our oceans will begin to be extinct of many of the fish and seafood that we have come to know and love. We are as a company committed to helping preserve our oceans’ species and keeping our oceans healthy. That’s why the seafood we serve is certified-sustainable.” One such example is FujiSan’s decision not to use eel because there are no sustainable options.

Hissho partnered with Resiliensea to evaluate the sustainability of its existing seafood vendors. In initial findings, 84 percent of Hissho seafood is purchased from vendors that are certified by BAP (Best Aquaculture Practice) or MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) or are engaged in a fishery improvement plan.

Hana Group North America was the first U.S. sushi company to achieve an ISO 14001:2015 certification, a certification demonstrating that the parent company and its brands have implemented and maintained the international standard for improving their organization’s environmental performance – making them the No. 1 supplier of sustainable sushi in a retail setting.