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Forget the Millennials: Here Comes Generation Z

The modern advertising truism is simple: be ready for the Millennials! In 2015, the U.S. is said to contain nearly 83.1 million Millennials, and although we can be a bit finicky about where our meals are sourced, the reality is we represent a huge and growing portion of the U.S. consumer market, even if we hate being labeled as such. What we want is starting to matter more and more to marketers and food producers, and that isn’t likely to change soon.

However, a good marketer knows that the next trend is just around the corner. So perhaps it is time to look beyond the Millennials. Perhaps it is time for marketers to get ready for Generation Z to ascend.

Generation Z is the cohort that follows the Millennials, and are sometimes referred to as iGens or the Post-Millennials. Some argue that the generation begins in the mid or late 1990s, and some argue that they begin in the mid 2000s, but all agree that the generational grouping continues into the present day. The generation contains many individuals who were born and raised in the current Internet era. Members of the group also exhibit post-racial characteristics relating to increasing ethnic diversity in the U.S., and as a sign of their age, seem to be increasingly concerned about rising student debt and the affordability of getting a college degree.

Those details may be interesting, but how do they affect the food industry?

Despite still being young, Generation Z is developing their own food-purchasing characteristics. Technomic completed a study on the generation, and found that Generation Z consumers were more likely to skip meals altogether than to use foodservice at nearly every part of the day. Generation Z seems to have a higher interest in global food options and health and wellness than preceding generations. According to the study, its members also value speed and digital engagement from foodservice, but seek social eating venues.

Meanwhile, Nielsen also studied the generation and found that its willingness to pay more for sustainable products is rapidly rising, with 72% of 15 to 20 year olds willing to do so in 2015 compared to 55% in 2014. Although this trend was not isolated to Generation Z alone (Boomers were also found to be increasingly willing to pay a premium, with 51% willing to pay more in 2015 compared to 44% in 2014) the two studies can give us a profile of the generation.

Marketers, take note: the next generation of consumers will be increasingly dependent and fluent in technology, and health and social responsibility will be of paramount importance. You had some good practice with the Millennials regarding ethical ingredient sourcing, integrating technology into food purchasing and bringing myriad ethnic flavor together, but Generation Z will take every one of those aspects to the next level.

Consider yourself warned.