Generation Z: The Power to Upend The Meat Case

Long before laptops and cell phones, Apple Inc. founder Steve Jobs predicted you would have a computer in your home. And, quite accurately, in 1985 he predicted you would want a mouse to make communicating with that computer easier.

Technology long ago made Jobs’ first home computer obsolete, but for those of us involved in livestock and food production, the “wow” factor is not so much the technology, but what it has done to the consumers of our products. And, we’re not talking about millennials, though they’re also important. Nope, now we’re talking about Generation Z, those raised primarily by Generation X parents.

So what are these population sub-groups? Baby boomers are those born after World War II, now aged 52 to 70. Generation X are those born from 1965 to 1980, now aged 36 to 51. Millennials are the group born from 1980 to 1996, now 22 to 37 years of age.

Generation Z, then, are those born after 1996, and according to Nielson data, they represent 26% of the U.S. population. That’s right, more than a quarter of the U.S. population never knew a world where Steve Jobs’ mouse didn’t exist. Throw in millennials, and Nielson says the two groups represent 48% of the U.S. population.

While food companies are currently focused on millennials – because they currently have the buying power – Generation Z is looming on the not so distant horizon. Gen Z was one of the first generations to have widespread access to the internet at an early age, and they have always had access to social media.

A new report from The NPD Group finds Gen Zs have higher consumption rates of organic foods and beverages than any other group, and they were taught at a young age the value of food in terms of function and nutrition and not just how it tastes. The NPD Group says Gen Z has the “potential to take demand for ‘real’ unadulterated food to new heights.”

NPD places quotes around the word “real” as a sign they’re not offering a definition for real food, just that Gen Z may define it differently than you or me. Gen Z’s definition of “real” food is already largely shaped by two important factors: their parents ideas about natural, organic, clean, local, etc, and by affluence.

Yep, Gen X has done pretty well, and most can pay a little extra for the organic and natural foods to feed their Gen Z offspring. Therefore, Gen Z is conditioned to look for foods with greater value – whatever those value attributes are.

For beef and pork producers, Generation Z will bring all of the demands for quality currently exercised by Gen Xers and millennials – only to a greater degree. The natural and organic categories will continue to grow, as will increasing consumer demands for the highest degree of animal care and quality assurance. It’s the buying power that may upend the meat case of the future.