Young and hungry – but not at all costs

Generation Z demands. But not only on the world's leaders. The demands on food and the food industry are also high. This young generation has a sustainable mindset that permeates everything they do, consume and eat. They buy products that confirm their lifestyle – and if they still live at home, the parents will buy what their youngsters want. Peter Wennström, CEO of the brand consulting company The Healthy Marketing Team, guides us right to a new consumer group with ethical indicators..

6 December 2019 •

The game plan for prod­uct mar­ket­ing has changed in recent decades. Today’s con­sumer groups are ‘believ­ers’. And this is espe­cial­ly true for young adult consumers.

– In prin­ci­ple, the area of food and health is a reli­gious mar­ket. Facts belong to yes­ter­day, and facts are true only if it is in accor­dance with your own reli­gion. Instead, we are attract­ed by prod­ucts that tell us somet­ing about our health or beau­ty, in a way that is con­sis­tent with our own con­cep­tu­al world, says Peter Wennström, CEO of The Healthy Marketing Team, an inter­na­tion­al con­sult­ing com­pa­ny, spe­cial­iz­ing in con­sumer com­mu­ni­ca­tion and brand posi­tion­ing in the area of food and health.

Commandments for success

At the same time, young gen­er­a­tions are demand­ing. Therefore, to meet suc­cess with your prod­ucts, it is cru­cial for food com­pa­nies to under­stand in-depth which gen­er­a­tion con­sumers are con­nect­ed to. The con­di­tions for mar­ket­ing today are fun­da­men­tal­ly dif­fer­ent from ten, twen­ty years ago.

– A big dif­fer­ence is that every­thing is search­able and thus trans­par­ent, says Peter Wennström.

Therefore, there are sev­er­al com­mand­ments to live up to as a food com­pa­ny: Be con­sis­tent in your com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Know care­ful­ly what require­ments the con­sumer places. Understand the consumer’s lifestyle and ‘reli­gion’, and know what con­flicts you need to resolve with­in it.

– And you need to know what role your brand has in the big pic­ture. It’s not just your prod­uct that should be eat­en. Your brand should also be eat­en, says Peter Wennström.

Generation Z are gamechangers

And those who pri­mar­i­ly want to believe in and eat your brand are today’s young adults. Those belong­ing to gen­er­a­tion Z. ie born around the turn of the millennium.

Unlike ear­li­er gen­er­a­tions, they do not belong to a youth cul­ture that is sep­a­rate or iso­lat­ed from the par­ents. They are influ­encers over gen­er­a­tional bound­aries. And they affect the agen­da today.

Think about Greta Tunberg. She is a Swedish cli­mate activist who demands the world’s lead­ers. The look in her eyes is seri­ous. She inspires and mobi­lizes young peo­ple around the world. She irri­tates world lead­ers and is at the same time a hero in the eyes of many – com­plete­ly cross-generational.

She is a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of gen­er­a­tion Z. The young adults who were born from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s. They are marked by the time after the attacks in the US on September 11, 2001, and the cli­mate cri­sis. They are pas­sion­ate about mak­ing the world a bet­ter place.

Generation Z are gamechang­ers.

Affects the parents

Young with an impact: Two-thirds of Sweden’s young peo­ple who still live at home has affect­ed their fam­i­lies, often to more sus­tain­able con­sump­tion behav­iour. Source: The 2019 Swedish Youth Barometer.
Eat less sug­ar (e.g. sweets and soft drinks) 25%
Eat more veg­e­tar­i­an food 24%
Reduce meat consumption 22%
Eat more fruit and vegetables 22%
Start cook­ing more at home 18%
Shop more organic 17%
Shop more Swedish-pro­duced food 17%
Plan food pur­chas­es (e.g. week­ly shopping) 16%
Start source sorting 15%
Shop more local­ly produced 14%
Buy free-range eggs 12%
Stop buy­ing ready meals 8%
Introduce veg­e­tar­i­an day 8%
Stop buy­ing ani­mal-test­ed hair and skin­care products 7%
Stop think­ing about calo­rie intake 4%
Other things 2%
No, I have not affect­ed my family. 34%

The thing is that these young adults are lis­tened to. Their par­ents have involved them in the major­i­ty of deci­sions. This applies not least to the food, which should be sus­tain­able and healthy.

– The par­ents are so-called curl­ing par­ents. When the child says ‘I do not want to eat sausage any­more’, it is not the child’s prob­lem, but the par­ents’, which links the refusal to meat eat­ing direct­ly to the child’s psy­cho­log­i­cal needs. As a tra­di­tion­al par­ent, you want­ed to give your chil­dren food and nutri­tion, but as a curl­ing par­ent, you want to meet the child. There is a con­flict with­in the par­ent, and there­fore, the chil­dren of today have more influ­ence of the adults buy­ing habits, than ever before, says Peter Wennström.

These young gen­er­a­tions are lead­ing change at all lev­els. Generation Z has a sus­tain­abil­i­ty approach that per­me­ates their entire con­sump­tion and eat­ing patterns.

– By tra­di­tion, the girls, like their old­er sis­ters, are health con­scious. But the boys of this gen­er­a­tion are not far behind, says Peter Wennström.

Believe and know

Generation Z vs Y: Differences between gen­er­a­tion Z and gen­er­a­tion Y, also called mil­len­ni­als. Source: Mashable.
Generation Z Generation Y (mil­len­ni­als)
Uses five dif­fer­ent dig­i­tal devices Uses two dif­fer­ent dig­i­tal devices
Communicates via images Sharing con­tent
Future-focused Focused on today
Realists Optimists
Want to work for success Want to be discovered

Peter Wennström tells about the con­sumer seg­men­ta­tion his team has done, togeth­er with a research group at Lund University, which is based on the belief in food.

– The study’s work­ing name was the church of healthy eat­ing. It was clear, that young con­sumers judge facts based on what they believe, rather than on facts. In the study, we want­ed to map out what kind of “health reli­gions” they professed.

In this way, Peter Wennström and his team were able to iden­ti­fy four dif­fer­ent seg­ments (reli­gions) in the group, all of which can be described as healthy believ­ers, unlike pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions of healthy eaters. With the help of the new seg­men­ta­tion, it will be eas­i­er to under­stand and com­mu­ni­cate with the new gen­er­a­tion of consumers.

– Communication must be done in entire­ly dif­fer­ent ways today. Older gen­er­a­tions watched the same TV chan­nel, and we gained the same knowl­edge, that is, a sin­gle, fact-believ­ing world­view. The young adults, includ­ing the gen­er­a­tion Y (mil­len­ni­als) and the younger gen­er­a­tion Z, live in their own media silos, says Peter Wennström.

Digital natives

The devel­op­ment of who owns the facts have changed entire­ly from the start of the Internet, and even more so from 2007 when we were intro­duced to the iPhone. After that, we entered a new world of communication.

Throughout grow­ing up, gen­er­a­tion Z has lived with the Internet and social media. They are dig­i­tal natives who alter­nate between the phys­i­cal real­i­ty and the dig­i­tal, and they expe­ri­ence no dif­fer­ence between them.

– Today we have social media, that cre­ates and strength­ens our diverse world­views. Therefore, these gen­er­a­tions live in dif­fer­ent worlds, depend­ing on what infor­ma­tion they choose. You can choose your facts, and what you are inspired by, in mar­ket­ing about food and health, is gov­erned by your own world­view. This is here we can help our cus­tomers, to devel­op the right prod­ucts and sto­ry for their brand, says Peter Wennström.

Food is an identity marker

Food is one of the most promi­nent iden­ti­ty mark­ers among young peo­ple. It is what you eat, or rather what you do not eat, that shows who you are and what you stand for.

Living sus­tain­ably and health­ily are essen­tial val­ues. Generation Z is asso­ci­at­ed with eat­ing more veg­e­tar­i­an meals. The con­cept of veg­e­tar­i­an­ism is a lifestyle cause and an indi­ca­tor of how one relates to diet, health, con­sump­tion and sustainability.

– They can per­ceive them­selves to be veg­e­tar­i­an, and describe them­selves as veg­an. But they are not con­sis­tent, and there­fore impact­ful. They can cheat by eat­ing a piece of meat every now and then. However, they would nev­er admit that they are not veg­an, says Peter Wennström

Labels are extreme­ly important.

– Your food is your iden­ti­ty, and it becomes your reli­gion. And it’s about sat­is­fy­ing your own needs, explains Peter Wennström.


Ethical labels

Being able to change labels on them­selves has prob­a­bly played a sig­nif­i­cant role in increas­ing the num­ber of flex­i­tar­i­ans among young peo­ple, believes Peter Wennström.

– Everything is about iden­ti­ty, and food choic­es are an active part of cre­at­ing iden­ti­ty. Brands are, there­fore, sig­nif­i­cant. From our research, we have cre­at­ed the con­cept of foods that talks. The food, ie the com­pa­ny behind it, must com­mu­ni­cate clear­ly to reach out, he says.

But when it comes to com­mu­ni­ca­tion with con­sumers, noth­ing has changed.

– We land in psy­chol­o­gy and social psy­chol­o­gy. The lat­ter point, social psy­chol­o­gy, weighs more heav­i­ly among young con­sumers. Many of them ask the ques­tion: How do oth­ers look at me when I buy this prod­uct ?, says Peter Wennström.

For Generation Z, the prod­uct is val­ued in two ways, he explains.

– Either it is insta­gram­able, or it is neg­li­gi­ble. The neg­li­gi­ble prod­uct is called eat and for­get.

The younger gen­er­a­tion also does not cook unless it is expe­ri­ence-based. In that case, they can just as eas­i­ly eat some­thing quick­ly and simply.

– We also see that the mid­dle cat­e­go­ry of food is on the way what we might call a dull or every­day food. The younger gen­er­a­tion would instead go out and eat, says Peter Wennström.


Urban nomads

The real world is now orga­nized around the dig­i­tal, and that means we are more often in motion. We are always on our way some­where. Like urban nomads. As soci­ety changes, it also affects the way we eat.

The new flex­i­bil­i­ty has giv­en rise to a phe­nom­e­non called snack­i­fi­ca­tion. Meals become like tem­po­rary points of attach­ment in our mov­ing lives.


But snack­i­fi­ca­tion should not be con­fused with the tra­di­tion­al small snack. In the new small-eat­ing cul­ture, we expect more of every­thing; more sub­stance, taste, qual­i­ty and nutri­tion than a pure fruit or sand­wich can offer on the way between two meetings.

– We are increas­ing­ly aware of what we eat, and more of us want to eat well. Snackification is about mini-meals. Liquid mini-meals are also a trend. The snack­ing may well con­sist of juice, smooth­ie or some­thing hot to drink, says Peter Wennström.

We carry our conflicts

Generation Z, how­ev­er, skips the plas­tic lid on the cup, straws and every­thing else about pack­ag­ing that is not per­ceived as durable. That’s because today’s con­sumers car­ry a vari­ety of con­flicts, and they have to be dealt with. The dis­putes are divid­ed into sev­er­al areas; local vs glob­al, fast vs slow, eth­i­cal vs selfish.

– A food pro­duc­er or mar­keter needs to under­stand where the con­sumer is. And it is cru­cial to help the con­sumer to find their way, says Peter Wennström.

Environment and convenience combined

He tells about the stud­ies his com­pa­ny HMT has done at soft drink man­u­fac­tur­ers in England. He dis­cov­ered a clear con­se­quence linked to con­sumer con­flicts. In a big city like London, fresh water is not avail­able every­whre, and the con­sumer is forced to buy water in plas­tic bot­tles. This is no longer a sus­tain­able con­sump­tion pat­tern for a lot of eth­i­cal­ly dri­ven con­sumers. They got bad con­science. But they are aware that they do not have a choice. Therefore, they require the man­u­fac­tur­ers to take their share of the responsibility.

– The soft drink man­u­fac­tur­er han­dled it all by open­ly con­firm­ing that there is a con­flict in buy­ing water in a plas­tic bot­tle. But the com­pa­ny also told, that they are switch­ing to recy­clabe plas­tic, and that they active­ly are work­ing on recy­cling sys­tems, which allows the envi­ron­ment and con­ve­nience to walk hand in hand, says Peter Wennström.

Transparency is crucial

Transparency and con­flict man­age­ment of this kind is cru­cial for gen­er­a­tion Z. They rate not only the prod­uct but the con­sump­tion itself. The feel­ing of what the prod­uct – and the brand – con­tains, promis­es and deliv­ers, deter­mines a buy.

For com­pa­nies, this means that they have to keep what they promise, both in terms of mar­ket­ing and, such as, eth­i­cal work­ing con­di­tions. We should not for­get that gen­er­a­tion Z is truth-seek­er and that they can mobilize.

Transparency describes today’s com­mu­ni­ca­tion land­scape. Companies can­not bury the head in the sand. You have to talk about conflicts.

– The trans­paren­cy must be total. When it comes to brand­ing, one must sup­port iden­ti­ty as far as pos­si­ble. You have to ask ques­tions such as: What is the pur­pose of con­sump­tion? What pur­pose does my brand have ?, says Peter Wennström.

Positioning of your brand

Each gen­er­a­tion con­sists of sev­er­al sub­groups, or tribes, with dif­fer­ent val­ues and needs. To under­stand how the groups dif­fer, you also need to under­stand and be able to relate to this. What makes them upset, engaged – or indifferent?

– Today, the ques­tion of how to build your sto­ry around your brand is extreme­ly impor­tant. It can be a sto­ry about the envi­ron­ment – and you can tell it in many ways. The same goes for using tra­di­tions, ethics or sci­ence. What you tell us about your brand is your brand posi­tion­ing, says Peter Wennström.

And to reach the young adult gen­er­a­tions, eth­i­cal brand posi­tion­ing is, if pos­si­ble, more impor­tant than ever. Still, gen­er­a­tion Z has not tak­en over the stage, but they have come out into the work­ing world and are already a buoy­ant group. If they still live at home, they have par­ents who buy what their young­sters want. It won’t be long before they take over both man­age­r­i­al and polit­i­cal positions.

The mar­ket is chang­ing and trans­paren­cy rules.

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