Talkin’ ‘bout our (next) generation.

I’ve been to a number of conferences over the past year and inevitably, the agenda includes at least one breakout about “Millennials”. There’s always an audible groan as attendees agree that they have “heard enough about this generation of experience-seeking, non-committal, entitled kids!”. (I should mention here that I am considered a Millennial myself…) Anyway, it’s time for Gen-Z.

A Gen-Z panel at this year’s IFMA COEX opened up about their preferences and their opinions on what steers their decisions when it comes to food. And they have a lot of them. From what I observed, this panel was articulate about the macro social issues that influence the way they think about what—and how—they eat. Simultaneously, they were practical about how their current stage of development impacts how that plays out in “real life”.

WHY IT’S HAPPENING

Now the single largest single population segment1, Gen-Z makes up 26% of the total media audience and with key differences in values and preferences, they pose an interesting challenge for brands. Encompassing those born between 1997 and 2015, this generation has serious spending power: Some through personal wealth and others through “pester power”.

As this generation approaches adulthood, early studies are homing in on what shapes their values and how that is being played out with purchases – whether of products or experiences. A few key things to consider when it comes to the food industry in particular:

Digital from DOB. This is the first generation that has truly grown up with cell phones—their parents are connected, and they access them at a much younger age. The panelists all voiced their use of their smartphone as a way to discover (Instagram), vet (Yelp), obtain (online ordering) and ultimately capture their unique experience. It’s worth noting that their time is spent on mobile devices rather than a PC—in fact, this generation spends an average of 8 minutes a day online via PC as compared to the 1+ hour of older generations1.

Socializing. What may seem in contrast to the above point, Gen-Z values “hanging out and socializing” as a top priority along with ordering shareable items when it comes to their preferred dining experience2. You may have heard rumblings of this generation noting higher levels of loneliness, with less human-to-human, authentic interactions. So it’s not surprising that Gen-Z seeks interaction with family and friends when it comes to dining. Keep this in mind as your brand thinks about how to facilitate relationship-building experiences and environments for Gen-Z.

WHAT WE THINK

This generation is different—brands and experiences in the food space are going to have to understand their expectations in a more holistic way.

We know that Gen-Z is outpacing Millennials in their occasions per week at top chains in the US3, and it’s up to us to keep a two-way conversation going with this group to truly understand them. As a more independent and entrepreneurial generation, it’s going to be more critical than ever to understand both what the data says about what matters to them and what resonates with them as individuals. Face-value of where, when and how they are dining are likely to line up with values that occasionally surprise us based on past generations.

WHAT’S NEXT

The largest qualitative and quantitative study to date was completed by KANTAR in 2017 and explored this generation’s attitudes and behaviors4. When it comes to media recommendations, “innovative formats” are cited as a way to win with this generation. In terms of creative recommendations, “expect a challenge”, “be interactive” and “push the aesthetic” are the headliners—which captures the pace and outside-the-box thinking that is going to be required to really understand and resonate with Gen-Z.

Full of nuances like the simple examples above, Gen-Z is discerning and likely going to be a challenge as marketers attempt to understand this ever-changing consumer.

[1] “Move over millennials, Gen-Z now the largest single population segment.” Sterling, Greg. Marketing Land. 17 June 2017.
[2] “The Gen-Z Selfie.” Technomic, courtesy of SmartSupport. June 2016.
[3] “Shifting Market Dynamics.” 2018 COEX, courtesy of Foodable Labs.
[4] “How to market effectively to Centennials.” Inskip, Mark. WARC Best Practices. July 2016.

Marketing to the 2026 Consumer

If you want a glimpse of the 2026 consumer, look up Amanda Steele. She’s a typical California high-school senior; a self-professed coffee lover who listens to Drake and says economics is her favorite class.

But in 2010, Steele began posting makeup and beauty tutorials on YouTube from her bedroom as a way to connect with fellow teens. Today, her YouTube channel MakeupbyMandy24 has 3 million subscribers, and has garnered Steele her own branded makeup collection, a modeling contract and a steady stream of red carpet appearances.

And while Steele’s level of success may be an exception, her prioritization of influence over affluence is quickly becoming the new consumer-value norm: he or she who can enact the greatest behavioral change wins, regardless of their financial position. It’s what A.T. Kearney is calling “America’s Next Commercial Revolution.”

WHY IT’S HAPPENING

While A.T. Kearney highlights several reasons for the shift from affluence to influence, the widening gap of income inequality is perhaps most instrumental.

According to its November 2017 report, the Pew Research Center found that “the median wealth of upper-income families was seven times that of middle-income families; a ratio that has doubled since 1983. Upper-income families also had 75 times the wealth of lower-income families in 2016, compared with 28 times the wealth in 19831.”

Traditional consumer models have fostered the belief that self-worth exists in direct relationship to what consumers buy, or, “I am what I own.” But because of rising income inequality, the youngest consumers began looking for other forms of currency that didn’t require traditional financial capital. 2026 consumers are shifting their self-worth to their ability to “create change and build community by influencing my peers2.”

Prioritization of influence over affluence is quickly becoming the new consumer-value norm.

In other words, influence is everything.

WHAT WE THINK

We as food marketers must begin shifting our approach to brand development and brand building in preparation for the Influence Model for consumption.

  • Affluence Model: Consumers are inspired by brands and value brands for their personality and what they do
  • Influence Model: Brands are inspired by consumers and consumers value brands for who they allow them to be

WHAT’S NEXT

The emergence of the Influence Model for food marketing means rethinking how we tell brand stories and connect with consumers. Specifically, it will mean a shift away from providing inspiration to nurturing aspirations. Here are just two ways this shift will impact our business:

Brand Narratives

Inspiration: Brand stories or narratives built upon company values

Aspiration: Brand stories or narratives built upon consumer values

Dave's Killer Bread

Dave Dahl was a convicted felon who, upon serving a 15-year prison sentence, was given a second chance to rejoin his family’s bakery business.  Dave worked tirelessly to create his namesake bread and, for every loaf sold, now donates a portion of the profits to the Second Chance Project, an organization that gives the 1 in 4 Americans with criminal backgrounds a second chance at meaningful employment.

Recipe Inspiration

Inspiration: Give consumers products to recreate our ideas

Aspiration: Give consumers the knowledge to bring their ideas to life

Kitchn's DIY KombuchaTraditional/Affluence-Model consumers look to food and beverage brands for ideas on social media they can easily replicate at home. Influence-Model consumers already have good ideas, but lack the tools or skills to make them a reality. Take a cue from The Kitchn, which has an amazing arsenal of trendy how-to’s, like this article on making your own signature kombucha.

Just some Thought for Food

1 “How Wealth Inequality Has Changed in the U.S. Since the Great Recession, by Race, Ethnicity and Income.” Pew Research Center. 1 November 2017.
2 “America’s Next Commercial Revolution: Influence vs. Affluence.” A.T. Kearney, Inc. 2017.

Questions, comments or want to learn more? Let's connect! weshouldtalk@jtmega.com

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