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Corporate Social Responsibility

How millennials & Gen Z are impacting food and beverage decisions at retail

In the last blog we discussed Baby Boomers and how they influence their millennial & Gen Z children. I thought it would be interesting to look at this in reverse and show how younger folks are influencing many of the decisions we make regarding products, packaging and supply chain. As a parent and professor of kids/students who fall into the millennial and/or Gen Z age groups, I think I am in a good position to discuss this topic. And based on what I’ve seen over the past few years, I think the generation of students we are putting out will make the world a better place by forcing us to make better business decisions. We can “Do Well by Doing Good!”

Everyone’s heard of “The Bottom Line” in business. Those of us who went to school in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s were told that “the goal of any company is to make a profit.”  About 10 years ago, the term “The Triple Bottom Line” was being used. This turned into “People, Planet and Profits”.  In other words, we need to worry about more things that just money.

I believe there are three reasons why we work. One is to “Earn,” the second to “Learn” and the third to “Affirm.” We need to make money to provide for ourselves and our family, we need to grow and mature in our career through training & development and we need to do things that support who we are and what we care about. Many younger consumers are applying this same thought process to the products they buy and the companies they work for.

Through the last 18 months of COVID, we have seen a shift in consumer behavior. However, many of your younger customers STILL want to know the following:

  1. Where products come from and what goes into them
  2. The working conditions of the people that grow, ship, make and sell the products
  3. What companies are doing to save our natural resources
  4. How they are minimizing the impact on the environment
  5. What companies are doing to “give back”

Food and beverage companies have gone to “clean labels” which means less ingredients and more real ingredients. In other words, if we look at a label and can’t pronounce the ingredient, it is probably not good for us.

Consumers also want to know how the people that “touch” the product through the supply chain, or deliver the service to the on and off-premise are treated. Are they paid a living wage? Do the farmers earn a fair profit? How many “food miles” do the raw materials travel from the farm, to the processing plant, to the manufacturing plant, to your location?

How are the raw materials grown that go into the beverages and food you sell? What is done with the byproducts of the ingredients and packaging? How are you helping the community?

So, what does this mean for you and your business?

You need to understand how your young employees, vendors, suppliers and customers think about these topics. This could be as simple as talking and listening to them directly, doing some secondary research on the topic or hiring someone to conduct some basic marketing research for you. Then, adjust your operations and marketing strategy based on your findings.

Whether you are an on-premise or an off-premise establishment, you need to make sure that you understand this group of consumers and build your products, merchandising and marketing programs around how they live. It will positively impact your bottom line!

And remember, Marketing is a race with no finish line.

George Latella teaches Food Marketing at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. Food Marketing which is the largest major at Saint Joseph’s University recently celebrated its 58th anniversary. Latella is also a partner in Beacon Marketing group which provides marketing planning, research and e-commerce/direct marketing communications for food and beverage companies. He can be reached at glatella@sju.edu or 610-660-2254.

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