Ready for Gen Z?

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When the Baby Boom generation was born, between 1946 and 1964, those of ethnic background made up 28% of the U.S. population. By 1997, the first birth year for Gen Z, nearly half the country (47%) was of ethnic origin: Asian, Hispanic, multi-ethnic. Shortly, the United States will become a “minority-majority” country, where those of ethnic origin will outnumber non-ethnics. California, which houses about 10% of the total U.S. population, already is minority-majority.

This is perhaps the most useful context in understanding the youngest generation, which is beginning to shape trends, particularly in food, and will influence the choices of their older brethren, the Millennials.

For example, a minority of Gen Z craves American and American Southern cooking, and has the highest craving of the three preceding generations—Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials—for Korean, Vietnamese and Indian food. Foods and flavors with names like Sriracha, Calabrian chili pepper, Banh Mi and Burrata are on Gen Z’s radar, although you may never have heard of them.

And, Gen Z is likely to be more frugal than Millennials, having seen their older brothers and sisters live through the Great Recession, graduate with massive college debt and struggle with stagnant real wages. This does not mean, however, that Gen Z will settle for low quality. Expect Gen Z to be every bit as aware and demanding that the foods and other products they buy be made with clean ingredients, organic, ethically- and sustainably-produced and transparently-sourced. To Gen Z, these measures of quality are the norm.

And just as we’ve seen a rapid shift in food culture away from “three square meals a day,” and the rise of snacking/mini-meals to half of all eating occasions, Gen Z will continue this trend, with greater demands for efficiency and customization. Be prepared for your Gen Z customer to order her vegan wrap, tailored with Sriracha mayo and quinoa, for the same price as your other wraps on the menu; place and pay for her order via smart phone so she doesn’t have to talk to someone who might screw up her order, and use a debit card or Apple Pay instead of cash.

It’s a new world, driven by Gen Z, and it may be the best decision you make to put your ear to the ground and listen.

Jay Jacobowitz is president and founder of RetailMerchandising insights Insights®, a professional consulting service for natural products retailers established in 1998, and creator of Natural Insights for Well Being®, a comprehensive marketing service designed especially for independent natural products retailers. With 39 years of wholesale and retail industry experience, Jay has assisted in developing over 1,000 successful natural products retail stores in the U.S. and abroad. Jay is a popular author, educator, and speaker, and is the merchandising editor of WholeFoods Magazine, for which he writes Merchandising Insights and Tip of the Month. Jay also serves the Natural Products Association in several capacities. He can be reached at (800)328-0855 or via e-mail at jay@retailinsights.com.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine October 2016

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