I was asked to give the keynote presentation at the Chicago Midwest Meat Association’s annual meeting in November. My assignment was to speak about meat industry trends to an audience of meat packers, processors and wholesalers from the Chicago-Midwest region. Coming up with a topic that everyone in the audience would be interested in was easier said than done.

Kimberlie ClymaHowever, as I thought more about the audience I would be speaking to, I came to the conclusion that there was one thing everyone in the room had in common. Everyone was a consumer. And everyone, in their respective jobs, serves consumers in one way or another. As producers of food, and more specifically as meat processors, understanding the consumer is crucial to everyone’s success. Knowing what consumers are looking for from the food they consume can mean the difference between a successful launch of a new product or its failure. Consumers are constantly changing. As a result, all segments of the meat industry need to continue to change the way they communicate and market to those consumers in order to stay successful.

At a presentation during the North American Meat Institute Meat Industry Summit last spring, Midan Marketing’s Michael Uetz said, “We need to know our consumers to remain in this industry…in order to stay relevant.” He went on to say, “We are all guided by what’s in the consumer’s mindset and what drives them to make purchases on a daily basis. If you don’t keep that in mind, no matter where you are in the food system, you are going to miss out.”

Understanding all of today’s consumer groups is one way to not “miss out.” That includes understanding the baby boomers, Generation X, millennials and even the newest group – Generation Z or the iGeneration. Each of these groups looks for different things when it comes to the food they eat. They shop differently, they eat differently and they communicate differently.

According to Uetz, the meat industry is making the mistake of ignoring baby boomers. “We as an industry aren’t doing a great job of following boomers through their transition to their golden years. We aren’t focused on their nutritional needs, we aren’t focused on their needs with the package sizes they are looking for. We need to pay more attention,” he said.

But next year, millennials will take over the boomers in numbers – so it’s crucial the industry continues to pay attention to them and their changing needs. Millennials want to be able to relate to the products they purchase. They are “connected” and want to understand as much as they can about the products they are buying. This translates to opportunities for the meat industry when it comes to marketing and communication.

While millennials and the older generations have huge impacts on food purchasing trends today, Gen Z is going to be the one that affects the future. Gen Z is made up of consumers that are currently 11 to 23 years old. They are described as social, educated, multitaskers, entrepreneurs, tech-savvy, digital natives, cautious and interactive. They think about the environment, want to give back, have never known a time without a computer and look to social networks for advice on what to buy. I have two members of Gen Z in my house and I can attest that technology and social media drive their awareness of trends and brands. Gen Z will account for 2.56 billion of the global population and 40 percent of all consumers by 2020. Their influence will only increase in upcoming years.

These consumers can’t be ignored. No consumers can be ignored. They have the power to drive trends and disrupt the industry – and it’s crucial, as we head into the New Year, for the industry to take notice and makeplans.