Generation Z Habits

European Market

Warren Buffett once said‭: ‬“In the business world‭, ‬the rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield‭.‬”‭

For some time‭, ‬I have been intrigued by the phenomenon of the elusive Generation Z‭ (‬Gen Z‭) ‬‮—‬‭ ‬the cohorts following the Millennials‭ (‬Gen Y‭) ‬‮—‬‭ ‬a group of consumers born and raised in the social media craze‭. ‬A new research project conducted by my company in Holland was aimed at clearing some spots on our corporate windshield so we could look into the future of fresh produce marketing‭.‬‭

Gen Z constitutes a whole new generation that creates a global cultural commonality with a combined buying power in the USA of‭ $‬43‭ ‬billion‭, ‬and an influence on an additional‭ $‬600‭ ‬billion of family spending‭, ‬according to the U.S‭. ‬Chamber of Commerce Foundation‭. ‬Gen Z spends more money on‭ (‬good‭) ‬food than all other preceding generations‭. ‬And yet‭, ‬the fresh produce industry ignores this potential goldmine of consumers‭. ‬Or maybe we simply don’t know what to do with them‭.‬

Modern technology has radically changed the rules of the marketing game‭. ‬In this new world‭, ‬fresh and healthy fruit has to compete with‭, ‬for instance‭, ‬rapper Snoop Dogg aggressively selling fruit-flavored energy drinks laced with chemicals on YouTube videos‭, ‬as well as the‭ ‬“now you see it‭, ‬now you don’t”‭ ‬messages on Snapchat‭. ‬In the face of this seemingly insurmountable and unfair competition‭, ‬how do we effectively connect to and‭ ‬market our‭ ‬“boring”‭ ‬fresh produce to Gen Z‭?

Our research project aimed to understand Gen Z’s sensibilities and sensitivities and tap into their hearts‭. ‬First order of business was bringing in graduate intern‭ Mathieu Hirdes‭,‬‭ ‬21‭, ‬who has worked in the produce industry since he was 15‭ ‬years old‭, ‬to set up focus groups as well as gather data and analyses to uncover the inside scoop on this omnipresent consumer‭ ‬demographic‭.‬

Hirdes found that according to an empirical study in web use‭, ‬it takes Gen Z’s 8‭ ‬seconds to decide if something is good or bad‭. ‬To put it in perspective‭, ‬the attention span of a goldfish is 9‭ ‬seconds‭. ‬For‭ ‬us as a company with sustainability firmly entrenched in our DNA‭, ‬this was a disconcerting phenomenon‭.‬

At face value it seems this generation does not take anything seriously‭. ‬However‭, ‬Hirdes found Gen Z is far more attuned to the‭ ‬plight of world sustainability and creating a better future than the Millennials‭. ‬Great news for us‭!‬

Delving deeper into how Gen Z thinks about fresh produce by orchestrating surveys and focus groups was not easy‭, ‬yet the outcome‭ ‬was extremely enlightening‭. ‬Inquiring into the produce purchase decisions of study participants‭, ‬Hirdes found that‭ ‬“Ego”‭ ‬is higher than‭ ‬“Eco‭.‬”‭ ‬Gen Zs won’t just buy a product because it’s sustainable‭; ‬they want to know the ways in which it will complement their lifestyle‭, ‬add value to their emotions or embrace their convictions‭ (‬e.g‭., ‬vegetarianism‭).

Regarding buying patterns‭, ‬it was found that approximately 34‭ ‬percent of Gen Z buys their own fresh produce‭. ‬A substantial 78‭ ‬percent‭, ‬however‭, ‬said they are able to exert influence on their parents’‭ ‬buying patterns‭, ‬based on their own convictions and beliefs‭. ‬The financial reach of Gen Z is greater than we think‭.‬

Another research conclusion is that Gen Z is not primarily brand-driven‭; ‬they are immensely intrigued by the behavior of the companies behind the brands‭. ‬A‭ ‬“good”‭ ‬brand owner can count on the support of and collaboration with Gen Z‭, ‬but then it has to play the marketing game according to their rules‭.‬

Gen Z told us that if we want them as customers‭, ‬our advertising spots must be short and appealing‭, ‬and preferably with some humor‭. ‬When we showed them our first attempts‭, ‬they said we will fail because we were‭ ‬“trying too hard to be cool‭.‬”‭ ‬According to them‭, ‬they prefer we be‭ ‬“boring and authentic”‭ ‬rather than‭ ‬“forced cool and not believable‭.‬”‭

Our biggest challenge in advertising was to limit our words and maximize our visuals‭, ‬otherwise we will be deleted from Gen Z’s horizon before our 8‭ ‬seconds are over‭. ‬We had to find ways to capture their interest and make them laugh‭, ‬yet back it up with‭ ‬real substance‭. ‬We had to stop thinking advertising‭, ‬and start thinking entertainment‭.‬

As a company‭, ‬we found Gen Z consumers may be young‭, ‬but are certainly not fools‭. ‬They expect our products to help them build a‭ ‬lifestyle‭, ‬or satisfy their conscience‭, ‬or add value to their convictions‭.

Consequently‭, ‬the main response from Gen Z in terms of our marketing communication was‭: ‬“Stop trying to sell us stuff‭, ‬and start telling us your story‭.‬”‭ ‬In this regard‭, ‬we found communication in generalities with Gen Z is futile‭. ‬We needed to speak their language‭. ‬However‭, ‬we failed dismally when we tried to speak‭ ‬“Gen Z‭.‬”‭

Hirdes’‭ ‬solution was to involve and engage a group of Gen Z’ers‭, ‬and get them to create corporate communication on our behalf‭. ‬As a result‭, ‬they created a jaw-dropping array of concepts that appeal to their generation‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬from website to in-store advertising‭, ‬from branded clothing to 8-second promotional movies‭. ‬Straight from the horse’s mouth‭.‬

This hugely interesting‭, ‬emerging generation of consumers needs to be addressed‭, ‬embraced and respected in a completely different manner‭. ‬A serious message with a smile will start the ball rolling‭, ‬but there is much more‭. ‬Gen Z knows everything‭, ‬sees everything and has an opinion about everything‭.‬

If the fresh produce industry wants to go out and play with these kids‭, ‬it will have to climb out of its box of arrogance and discard its‭ ‬“know-it-all”‭ ‬attitude‭. ‬Immerse yourself in their world‭, ‬and enjoy the rollercoaster‭.‬


Nic Jooste is director of Marketing & Corporate Social Responsibility
for Cool Fresh International, based in The Netherlands.

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