By Grete Lavrenz, Carmichael Lynch Relate Executive Vice President and Senior Partner
The image of a little boy tugging on his mother’s sleeve at the grocery store might be tropey, but it holds more than just a grain of truth. Gen Z — which currently encompasses those born in the mid 1990s or later — is rapidly gaining buying power. The younger set is focused on swaying their parents in the moment and the older set is finishing college and embarking on shopping trips of their own. By 2020, Gen Z is forecast to be the largest generation. Therefore, now is the time for marketers to understand their behavior and purchase motivators. Gen Z shoppers utilize more technology, care more about brand authenticity and consume more organic and non-GMO foods than any other generation. As Gen Z’s buying power will only grow, it’s key that brands and retailers understand the buying factors that matter to them most.
1. They’re social shoppers:
It’s hard to read or write about Gen Z without the phrase “social media” popping up. This generation spends most of their free time online, where they look for opportunities to engage with brands. As smartphone natives, they use apps and websites to learn about new products, find new brands and make purchases. Yet mobile shopping is not necessarily their preferred style, with an average of about 8 percent of their sales coming from ecommerce1. Many from Gen Z prefer to shop in brick-and-mortar locations. It’s time that brands leverage this hyperconnectivity and move beyond chatter to using social to engage Gen Z-ers in stores.
2. They’re tech-heads:
Social media is only a piece of the mobile-shopping puzzle. Gen Z-ers are known for being connected to their phones, and daily tasks are no exception. Gone are the days of the grocery list stuck to the fridge; now it lives on a phone, with 42 percent of Gen Z keeping digital lists2. They are also regular users of restaurant apps, delivery apps, restaurant tablets and order kiosks3. This compounds the case for brands to connect with Gen Z over social media, where menu planning is only an app away.
3. They’re in the clean plate club:
Now this is not what you traditionally think of as the “clean plate club.” There’s a surge of clean-label, organic and non-GMO foods in our grocery aisles. And Gen Z-ers are the heaviest consumers of these foods, perhaps thanks to mindset shifts made by their Gen X parents4 along with the way companies have figured out how to produce more and more of these options. Millennials and Gen Z both care about the authenticity, freshness and purity of the products they use, but for Gen Z, clean eating isn’t so much a trend or preference as it is a way of life.
4. They connect with brands:
Slapping a “free from” claim, an organic or non-GMO certification, or a “now made with [please insert XYZ trendy ingredient here]” call-out on a product isn’t enough for Gen Z — they want to feel an authentic connection with brands. Many Gen Z-ers see themselves as a personal brand, and want to consume products that align with their image. They support smaller, more local niche brands, and aren’t interested in those that are simply trying to make a sale — they want emotional authenticity and a story that resonates4.
5. They’re frequent buyers:
Much like their preference for smaller brands, Gen Z-ers also prefer smaller, more frequent grocery trips — and going to small-scale stores, convenience stores and even vending machines. This means that they’re more likely to swing by the store for a few items than they are to make one big stock-up trip. Product placement is the key for grocers trying to capitalize on this trend; for example, housing easy grab-and-go items (or better yet, clean-label, organic and non-GMO snackable items) close to the self-checkout lines4.
The takeaways for marketing to Gen Z for food brands and grocery retailers?
Connect both emotionally and through social channels. Gen Z is the most technically connected generation yet. Be clean, be fresh, be natural, and almost more importantly, be authentic. Because they were young during the last recession, they are money-conscious but not money-driven. That means coupons or loyalty programs are not a huge draw. Gen Z-ers don’t buy the product that saves them the most money; they buy the product whose story resonates with them best, the one in which they see themselves reflected. It’s more important than ever for brands to build those authentic connections, before consumers’ changing demand pushes them out of the grocery aisle. This growing generation is growing up. Gen Z’s buying power is increasing, and brands need to capitalize on their purchase motivators sooner, rather than later.
1 Numerator (2019)
2 Retail Leader (January, 2018)
3 NPD (April, 2019)
4 Grocery Dive (August, 2018)