Millennials are killing canned tuna — and it reveals a dark truth about how the generation is forced to work

Monkey Business Images/ShutterstockTuna in an open office? Unacceptable.
  • Canned-tuna consumption has plummeted over the last three decades.
  • A report from The Wall Street Journal blamed the decline on millennials’ appreciation for convenience and fresh food – but ignored how work lunches have evolved in recent decades.
  • The rise of open office plans and employees increasingly working through lunch makes smelly tuna an obnoxious choice.
  • The death of the lunchtime tuna sandwich serves as an example of the larger forces behind millennials’ “killing” sprees: The generation is under economic pressure unlike that experienced by earlier generations.

According to a new report, millennials are killing the canned-tuna industry.

But maybe millennials’ tastes are not to blame. Instead, the tuna industry needs to examine the rise of the open office and the loss of lunch hour.

Tuna sales are down 42% in the last three decades, The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday. According to The Journal, millennials’ changing tastes were a factor in driving down sales, as the younger generation values convenience and fresher foods.

“A lot of millennials don’t even own can openers,” said Andy Mecs, the vice president of marketing and innovation for StarKist.

Read more:
Millennials are killing canned tuna because opening a can is too much work for them, StarKist exec says

However, reporters didn’t dig into one piece of anecdotal evidence that appeared more than once in the article: the problems that smelly tuna can cause in offices.

“It’s over and above fishy,” Thomas Lane, a designer at Intel, told The Journal.

Tuna is still regarded as a “lunchbox staple,” to quote The Journal. But, as working Americans’ lunchtime practices shift, what they are able to eat at lunch is also evolving.

LunchEmmie Martin/Business InsiderWork lunches are evolving.

The practice of leaving the office for lunch is on the decline.Roughly 62% of people eat their lunches at their desk, The New York Times reported in 2016.

At the same time, employers are increasingly cramming people closer together with open office layouts. More than 70% of American offices are designed with an open desk plan.

Combine these two workplace trends, and you have more people eating lunch at their desks in closer proximity to others. In other words, in 2018, there’s no place to eat a tuna sandwich without being publicly shamed for consuming the smelly dish.

Just search Twitter for “open office tuna,” and you’ll see how the canned fish can ruin coworkers’ days.

Tuna isn’t the only food lunchtime brown-baggers avoid thanks to open offices. Hard-boiled eggs and egg salad have their fair share of critics, potentially contributing to the decline of mayonnaise. Others argue that any fish should be banned, especially if it is going to be reheated in the workplace microwave. One Business Insider reporter is convinced that bananas are too pungent for the workplace.

Of course, the open office alone cannot be blamed for the canned-tuna industry’s struggles. However, it serves as an example of the larger forces behind millennial “killing” sprees: The generation is under economic pressure unlike that experienced by earlier generations.

Average real labour earnings for male household heads working full time were 18% and 27% higher for Gen Xers and baby boomers, respectively, when they were young compared with millennials, according to a recent study by the Federal Reserve. For young women, the difference was smaller – 12% for Gen Xers and 24% for boomers – but earlier generations were still making more money when they were younger among similar demographics.

Millennials’ lack of time for lunch and crowded work spaces are just one piece of a wider economic trend that has resulted in the generation having less money to spend.

For the industry to truly recover, tuna makers need more than just new products. Millennials need to be making more money – and have time to eat lunch.

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