By Roxi Beck, CFI Consumer Engagement Director
Ready or Not, Gen Z is poised to change the face of food. That’s according to new research from The Center for Food Integrity (CFI). We conducted digital ethnography, quantitative research and immersive Gen Z experiences, for a 360-degree look at this unique segment and how to engage to earn trust.
Download the guide.
Register for the webinar.
The findings equip the food industry with insights to engage Gen Z consumers, Gen Z farmers and ranchers, and the Gen Z workforce. The guide details engagement strategies agriculture organizations can use to attract and retain young members and future leaders.
Additionally, it details how food companies, restaurants, retailers, agribusinesses and others involved in the business of food can attract and integrate this up-and-coming generation into today’s multigenerational workforce.”
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Gen Z: Who Are They?
Born between the mid-to-late 1990s and the early 2010s, this emerging consumer segment has a distinct set of values, behaviors, fears and preferences, along with growing purchasing power. Accounting for 20.67% of U.S. consumers and nearly one-third of the global population, Gen Z’s economic power is the fastest growing across all generations and their income is predicted to increase fivefold to $33 trillion by 2030 and surpass Millennials’ incomes by 2031.
Gen Z is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation, too. According to Pew Research, Gen Z represents the leading edge of the country’s changing racial and ethnic makeup – with 52% non-Hispanic White, 25% Hispanic, 14% Black, 6% Asian and 5% a different race or two or more races. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2026, the majority of this generation will be non-White.
Gen Z also thinks very differently about the products they buy – including food and beverages. They are driven by social causes, including environmental and social justice issues. This means they support brands that align with their values. They value technology used to produce food, and view food as a form of self-expression and identity.
Gen Z On the Farm
This generation also likes immersive experiences. To that end, as part of the research project, we brought together Gen Z food online influencers and Gen Z farmer online influencers for a two-day tour around San Antonio, Texas, that explored beef production and nutrition – and explored the many questions regarding beef sustainability.
The tour gave influencers access to experts including a cattle rancher, veterinarian, dietitian and chef – and no question was left unanswered. A smaller-scale tour was also conducted in eastern Iowa. The participants experienced access to things most people simply don’t have access to – a backstage pass of sorts. Throughout the experience, we saw many “aha” moments from the consumer and farmer participants.
We’ve conducted several influencer tours over the years. They are an incredible way to show full transparency, have authentic conversations, and truly build relationships – all important elements in earning trust.
In addition to the direct impact on participants, each influencer’s online content – blogs, photos and videos – were shared with more than one million loyal followers, amplifying the many positive things happening on farms and in food production today. Tour videos featured on CFI’s BestFoodFacts.org consumer site featured comments including:
“I had no idea that there was this much technology. When I envisioned a farm, it wasn’t this. I think it’s extremely important to continue innovating.”
“We’ve been fed over and over again to be scared of the way our food is farmed and raised, and I just don’t think that I believe that anymore. I have a much more well-rounded idea of what farming is and have a lot more trust in the food system and in farming.”
In the Grocery Aisle
When it comes to specific eating habits, CFI’s Illuminate™ digital ethnography research revealed distinct trends including:
- Building a Better Relationship with Food: They believe intuitive and mindful eating will help them build a healthier relationship with food that is free of stress and guilt.
- Balanced Nutrition: They try to optimize nutrition by developing a habit of eating a wide variety of foods, especially plant-based, rather than restricting their diet.
- Sustainable Diets: They want to do what they can to reduce their carbon footprint by minimizing meat consumption and buying local ingredients.
Illuminate™ leverages digital ethnography methodology to instantly observe millions of online interactions, revealing demographics, values, attitudes, fears, motivators, behaviors, brand preferences and more.
CFI’s research regarding why consumers accept or reject technology in agriculture and food showed that when communicating about technology, like gene editing, primary messages should include key drivers of trust, including: food safety, sustainability, perceived benefits, naturalness of the technology and making information readily available and easy to understand.
The Path Forward
The research culminated in a communications guide, “Engaging Gen Z: The Consumer, The Farmer/Rancher, The Workforce,” that details CFI research and other Gen Z findings, along with specific strategies to engage each audience.
Gen Z consumers are hiring food to do different jobs for them than previous generations. They are looking to food not only for sustenance – they want it to positively impact long-term health for the body and the mind, they want it to be produced sustainably for the future of our planet.
Importantly, they are proponents of technology and innovation as they have many examples of how live is improved through innovations. Be forthcoming with the role of technology in food production and how it directly relates to consumer goals. They see innovation as critical to solving global challenges. Sharing examples of your efforts and progress demonstrates your commitment to sustainability.
For agriculture organizations looking to recruit and retain Gen Z farmers and ranchers, provide opportunities early and often so they are connected and understand that they can have an impact. Offer development and training opportunities to empower engagement outside of agriculture. And make sure other generations take into consideration the new perspective Gen Z brings that can help the industry advance.
When engaging the Gen Z workforce, showcase your company values, get them involved in initiatives that support company culture and community engagement, and demonstrate that you’re committed to taking steps to impact change.
Because they want to speak up and be heard, give them a voice in the workplace. It gives them a sense of belonging, which research shows improves longevity.
This just scratches the surface of what we discovered. For additional findings and engagement strategies, download “Engaging Gen Z: The Consumer, The Farmer/Rancher, The Workforce.” A webinar is planned for Tues., Feb. 28, 1 p.m. CT. Register at foodintegrity.org. Videos from the influencer tours can be found at www.bestfoodfacts.org.
Please reach out if you’re interested in an Engaging Gen Z interactive training for your organization, a research presentation or Gen Z consumer panel at your next event, or if you’re interested in hosting your own Gen Z influencer tour. We can help. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.