Generation Z – concrete insights for the food industry

Generation Z refers to those born in the mid-to-late 1990s and up to the early 2010s. They are digital natives. They are educated and aware. They care about health and sustainability. And not least, they care about food and eating. Now they are coming of age. How does that affect us in the food industry? Let's explore it.

13 January 2022 •

Generation Z is not an unfa­mil­iar con­sumer group. We have had them in our midst for many years; the old­est will be thir­ty in just a few years. However, the con­cept is some­what younger. It emerged in the mid-00s and has since been used exten­sive­ly to refer to those born from the mid/​late 1990s through to the ear­ly 2010s. Exactly which years apply is dis­put­ed by scholars.

Digital natives

What we can be sure of is that they are more edu­cat­ed than any pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion. They are aware of the world and the prob­lems and chal­lenges fac­ing human­i­ty – not least the cli­mate threat. And health and sus­tain­abil­i­ty have a major impact on their consumption.

They are born with a smart­phone in one hand and a tablet in the oth­er. They are often referred to as ‘dig­i­tal natives’. Social media isn’t just an amuse­ment for Generation Z. It’s where many find knowl­edge, answers to ques­tions and form an iden­ti­ty with like-mind­ed people.

Arbetsstation med laptops och hörlurar

Generation Z comes of age

Over the next two decades, this dig­i­tal gen­er­a­tion, edu­cat­ed and aware of health and sus­tain­abil­i­ty, will enter the adult world. How will this affect our indus­try? What should you do to ensure your busi­ness doesn’t get left in the dust? Let’s explore that, with the help of a study from EIT Food, among others.

The world as Generation Z sees it

EIT Foods asked more than 2,000 young peo­ple aged 18–24 from the UK, France, Germany, Poland and Spain about their views on the food indus­try and their habits and out­look on life.

Young peo­ple look at food, health and con­sump­tion from a holis­tic per­spec­tive. Ingredients and pro­duc­tion meth­ods must be ‘fair’, with respect to the con­sumer, the peo­ple in the pro­duc­tion chain, ani­mals and nature, and the climate.

Food also serves as a mark­er of iden­ti­ty. It is impor­tant to con­sume the ‘right’ brands. These are brands that align with and con­firm their per­cep­tions of the world.

More than half said they use social media to get advice on healthy eating.

Get what they want

Growing up, Generation Z had a lot of say in what was eat­en at home. Their par­ents’ gen­er­a­tion has approached them in a very dif­fer­ent way com­pared to pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions. This is a gen­er­a­tion that is used to influ­ence and get­ting its way.

But what do they want? What are their dis­tinc­tive pref­er­ences and habits? And how can you reach them and influ­ence them? Let’s look at three over­ar­ch­ing insights that you can work on.

Person håller upp godispåse som en hyllning

Insight 1: Soft spot for snacks

Snacks are a favourite among Generation Z. It may seem con­tra­dic­to­ry when all you hear is their inter­est in health and healthy eat­ing. Snacks sound bad; many like­ly asso­ciate snacks with sweets and unhealthy foods. But if we broad­en our pic­ture a bit, snacks become more mul­ti­fac­eted. After all, a snack can be any­thing from bev­er­ages, smooth­ies and yoghurt to bars, sand­wich­es, mues­li and oth­er prod­ucts that don’t have to con­tain emp­ty calo­ries in the form of sug­ar and fat.

Scattered meals

Generation Z have prop­er meals, of course, but the por­tions are small­er and the eat­ing is more spread out over the day.

Their fond­ness for scat­tered meals can be explained by the fact that many live hec­tic lives with­out fixed eat­ing rou­tines. A quick snack between lec­tures and leisure activ­i­ties is more the rule than the exception.

The chal­lenge is to devel­op healthy snacks. According to the EIT Foods study, 73% find it dif­fi­cult to eat health­ily when they are at school, at work or on the go.

Tre personer diskuterar och pekar på en laptopskärm

The versatile snack

Tasty, sat­u­rat­ing and healthy snacks are in them­selves an oppor­tu­ni­ty for food pro­duc­ers who want to reach Generation Z. The oppor­tu­ni­ties for vari­ety and dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion are already great in this prod­uct seg­ment. But those who think ahead can take this to a new level.

Imagine a ready-made prod­uct that you can renew rel­a­tive­ly quick­ly and with rel­a­tive­ly lit­tle effort, depend­ing on what is hap­pen­ing in the mar­ket and what is in demand. Picture your­self a basic prod­uct that has all the desired fea­tures, but where one of the fea­tures can eas­i­ly be mod­i­fied to cre­ate new expe­ri­ences of the prod­uct. This is a scal­able prod­uct.

Like scal­able pro­duc­tion, the scal­able prod­uct is about increased out­put as a result of increased input. But unlike pro­duc­tion scal­a­bil­i­ty, where it is the num­ber of units pro­duced that increas­es, prod­uct scal­a­bil­i­ty is about increas­ing the num­ber of vari­ants of the product.

Let’s look at a real-life exam­ple that has real­ly tak­en prod­uct scal­a­bil­i­ty to heart.

A successful example

Två staplar med chockladkakeförpackningar

One brand that has a scal­able prod­uct is Marabou. It is one of Scandinavia’s largest choco­late brands and is part of Mondelez.

In the 1950s, they found the recipe for suc­cess, both lit­er­al­ly and fig­u­ra­tive­ly, for milk choco­late that sells. For decades, it has exist­ed with just a few flavours: pure milk choco­late, milk choco­late with chopped hazel­nuts, milk choco­late with whole roast­ed hazel­nuts, milk choco­late with raisins and chopped almonds, and milk choco­late with orange crisp.

But a decade or so ago, some­one realised that milk choco­late is scal­able. Why stop at hazel­nuts, raisins and almonds, and orange crisp? Why not use our own and oth­er brands’ flavours?

Nowadays Marabou milk choco­late with Oreo, Digestive, Salty Crackers TUC, Toffee, pop­corn, cook­ie dough, and many more are avail­able. Yes, in fact, 24 vari­eties at the time of writing!

Reason to communicate

Scalable prod­ucts also allow you to com­mu­ni­cate. And if you can find a cre­ative and effec­tive way to com­mu­ni­cate, you’re well placed to make the most of your scalability.

Bild på öppna fönster i ett hyreshus sett underifrån

Insight 2: Transparency and openness

Generation Z is edu­cat­ed and health-con­scious, yet finds it dif­fi­cult to make healthy choic­es. The EIT Foods sur­vey found that 61% find it dif­fi­cult to eat health­ily because of con­flict­ing information.

Almost 8 out of 10 young peo­ple who respond­ed to the EIT Foods study ask for labels that tell them how the prod­uct is pro­duced. A sim­ple list of ingre­di­ents is not enough.

Almost as many (3 out of 4) think that food man­u­fac­tur­ers need to be more trans­par­ent about ingre­di­ents and processes.

Overall, brands need to become more open and trans­par­ent. Generation Z wants food pro­duc­ers to detail the impact of their prod­ucts on health, sus­tain­abil­i­ty, the envi­ron­ment, ori­gin, and more.

Go digital with the packaging

The first step to becom­ing more trans­par­ent and answer­ing every­thing Generation Z wants to know about your prod­uct is to explain in sim­ple and clear text and pic­tures what ingre­di­ents are used and how they are made.

One pos­si­bil­i­ty is QR codes on food pack­ag­ing. QR is short for Quick Response. And that’s exact­ly what a QR code on a pack­age can be used for: to pro­vide a quick answer about the ori­gin of prod­ucts, their impact on the envi­ron­ment and, not least, their effect on health.

Generation Z always car­ries a smart­phone. When the phone’s cam­era is point­ed at the QR code, a web page opens. There you can give the con­sumer in-depth infor­ma­tion about the product.

Of course, you should go one step fur­ther and offer the con­sumer the oppor­tu­ni­ty to inter­act with you. For exam­ple, the abil­i­ty to chat with cus­tomer ser­vice to get answers to ques­tions. Or why not share recipes that involves your prod­ucts? The pos­si­bil­i­ties are almost endless.

Be where Generation Z is – on social media

Another step to becom­ing more trans­par­ent and answer­ing every­thing Generation Z wants to know about your prod­uct is to be where they are and inter­act with them on equal terms.

Generation Z uses apps more than four hours a day on aver­age. And that time doesn’t even include gam­ing time. They spend a lot of time on social media. 9 out of 10 are online sev­er­al times a day. Half say they’re online almost constantly.

YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat are among their favourite online plat­forms. Right now, it should be added. What it will look like in two or three years, no one knows. That’s why it’s impor­tant to stay on your toes and keep up with devel­op­ments. Your goal is to be where Generation Z is.

Be social on social media

Generation Z expects to be able to inter­act with brands on social media. Some things to consider:

  • 78% use social media to get to know new brands.
  • 76% use social media to inter­act with brands and companies.
  • 61% of Generation Z con­sumers want com­pa­nies to get to know them bet­ter based on their social media activity.
  • 52% of Generation Z con­sumers expect com­pa­nies to read and analyse their social media posts.

Generation Z uses social media for social inter­ac­tions. And they expect busi­ness­es to do the same.

Show what you do and tell us why. Answer ques­tions quick­ly and make it human-to-human. Seek out dis­cus­sions that direct­ly or indi­rect­ly relate to your prod­uct and dare to par­tic­i­pate on equal terms.

Bild på färgglatt pussel sett ifrån ovan

Co-creation with Generation Z

The bold­est step to become trans­par­ent and meet the demands of Generation Z is to give con­sumers the oppor­tu­ni­ty to be part of the devel­op­ment and mar­ket­ing of your prod­ucts. That’s co-cre­ation.

Co-cre­ation cre­ates par­tic­i­pa­tion and loy­al­ty. And not least, it sat­is­fies one of the most dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ter­is­tics of Generation Z: man­i­fest­ing their indi­vid­ual iden­ti­ty. Generation Z is not only eager for more per­son­al prod­ucts but also will­ing to pay a pre­mi­um for prod­ucts that high­light their individuality.

Learn from others

It’s not just the food indus­try that needs to become more trans­par­ent and respond bet­ter to crit­i­cal ques­tions from Generation Z. It applies to all indus­tries. How do com­pa­nies in fash­ion, fit­ness, or bank­ing and finance reach out to and build rela­tion­ships with Generation Z? How do they demon­strate trans­paren­cy and open­ness? Discover, explore and learn!

Par som cyklar i solnedgång och sträcker sina händer mot varandra

Insight 3: Take a stand!

Generation Z is attract­ed to brands that take a clear stand on impor­tant social issues. That doesn’t mean your brand should take a stand on just about every top­ic there is. Brands that want to be the best at every­thing and be friends with every­one don’t have the same cred­i­bil­i­ty as one that takes a bold stand on a spe­cif­ic issue.

Purpose and core values

The posi­tion must be hon­est and based on a gen­uine opin­ion. This is impor­tant, not only to be per­ceived as authen­tic by con­sumers but also to have the courage to stand up when not every­one agrees.

Start with yourself.

What is your pur­pose — your rea­son for being. Making mon­ey is not a pur­pose. It’s a result. Nor is it your out­put. It is only a means. The pur­pose is to accom­plish some­thing based on insight or belief. What is that insight or conviction?

What core val­ues do you stand for? Forget the usu­al plat­i­tudes about open­ness and trans­paren­cy. Answer hon­est­ly what time­less prin­ci­ples guide every­thing and every­one in your com­pa­ny. Core val­ues are so fun­da­men­tal that they rarely, if ever, change. Not even if it cost to keep them.

The core topic

Only when you know the brand’s pur­pose and core val­ues can you find a ques­tion to con­sid­er; the ques­tion should help achieve your pur­pose and be con­sis­tent with your core values.

Don’t for­get Generation Z. For them, it’s impor­tant that brands dare to take a stand. But what you choose to take a stand on is also rel­e­vant to them.

If you want to reach Generation Z, it’s a good idea to pri­ori­tise a core top­ic that also engages many in Generation Z and espe­cial­ly those you see as your tar­get audience.

Practise what you preach

To take a stand is also to expose one­self to scruti­ny and crit­i­cism. You have to be pre­pared for that, so it’s impor­tant to prac­tise what you preach.

For exam­ple, assume that men­tal health is a core top­ic for your brand. The world sees that you are pas­sion­ate about this and doing good things on this top­ic. Slowly but sure­ly, the tar­get audi­ence shows their trust in the brand by choos­ing it and rec­om­mend­ing it to others.

But one day some­one notices sys­tem­at­ic harass­ment and bul­ly­ing at one of your subcontractors.

Ungdomar som sträcker in sina händer i mitten och bildar en stjärna

The right partners

It may seem that it is not your fault or respon­si­bil­i­ty that there are prob­lems with one of your sub­con­trac­tors; in today’s soci­ety, with com­plex sup­ply chains, it is impos­si­ble to keep track of all the parts. But many in Generation Z make no dis­tinc­tion between your com­pa­ny, your brands and your sub­con­trac­tors and part­ners. For them, it’s the same body.

If a scan­dal affects a sub­con­trac­tor or part­ner, or if your brand is seen in the com­pa­ny of bad busi­ness­es, it affects you whether you think it’s fair or not.

This is per­haps pri­mar­i­ly a chal­lenge for large and estab­lished food com­pa­nies with a myr­i­ad of sub­con­trac­tors and part­ners. For small­er and medi­um-sized com­pa­nies, it may be eas­i­er to mon­i­tor the ecosys­tem they are in. And for young and start-up com­pa­nies still estab­lish­ing an iden­ti­ty, there is much to be gained from find­ing oth­er com­pa­nies with sim­i­lar val­ues, approach­es and practices.

Consistently transparent

Even if it feels unfair to be affect­ed by some­thing that some­one else has done, you have every­thing to gain by admit­ting that it has gone wrong and that you have a responsibility.

A sur­vey on Generation Z by McKinsey shows that 80% refuse to buy prod­ucts from com­pa­nies that have been involved in a scan­dal. At the same time, McKinsey high­lights that Generation Z is more tol­er­ant of scan­dals than oth­er con­sumer groups – if mis­takes are addressed and cor­rect­ed, that is.

Being trans­par­ent and open in com­mu­ni­cat­ing with Generation Z is per­haps most impor­tant when it is the most dif­fi­cult to do so.

Neon skylt med texten do something great

Act now!

Making prod­ucts for the new gen­er­a­tions is an excit­ing and, not least, impor­tant job. The shift in atti­tudes and food pref­er­ences and the con­cern for health and sus­tain­abil­i­ty is forc­ing you as a food pro­duc­er to keep up with inno­va­tion and prod­uct development.

Digital and social plat­forms offer great oppor­tu­ni­ties to work cre­ative­ly and effec­tive­ly with com­mu­ni­ca­tion and impact. Both when it comes to mak­ing your brand and prod­ucts vis­i­ble, and when it comes to work­ing on the major social issues that engage your tar­get audience.

We are in a trans­for­ma­tion right now. Food pro­duc­ers who get inno­va­tion, prod­uct devel­op­ment and mar­ket­ing right can turn young con­sumers into life­long customers.

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