CARLSBAD, Calif. – “Distracted and addicted,” is how Jeff Fromm described today’s consumers during the opening presentation at the North American Meat Institute’s Meat Industry Summit on April 9. Fromm, a consumer trends consultant with the Kansas City, Missouri-based advertising agency, Barkley, shared results of research his firm has conducted covering multiple consumer segments, contrasting millennials with the up-and-coming Generation Z, including how companies can develop a brand that succeeds in today’s dynamic landscape while preparing and planning for the next big thing in the future.

Consumer mindset was a focus of his presentation, including the segment of consumers that are millennials. He said the stereotypes of this group being basement-dwelling, freeloaders living an entitled life in their parents’ homes cannot be applied universally, nor should generalizations be made about any generation of today’s consumers. He pointed out how the fundamental structure of families isn’t what it used to be and because they are more diverse, behaviors are more unpredictable than ever, creating marketing challenges.

“If you want to drive sales in the fresh case, we should start by looking at younger consumers inside their homes,” he said, explaining that adventure-seeking consumers, especially those under the age of 30, often don’t have their pantry stocked with the necessary ingredients to fulfill the food adventures they want to experience. “This is not a flavor opportunity. This is a challenge,” Fromm said of the lack of spices many younger consumers maintain in their cabinets. “I think it directly relates to the volume opportunity in the fresh case.” Often, it is too easy for consumers to opt for opportunities to eat food outside the home out of convenience, albeit for a higher price.

Meanwhile, when appealing to Gen Z consumers, those born in the mid ‘90s to the early 2000s, Fromm said this segment can be defined by a theme of old souls in young bodies. Like millennials, they are progressive in terms of being digital, social, mobile, technology driven, and they are willing to try new products and different brands. However, they tend to be more traditional when it comes to views about work ethic, privacy, personal achievement and careers.

Especially in the workplace, millennials are all about collaboration while Generation Z is all about competition, according to Fromm. “They are in favor of winners and losers, they intend to compete, and they intend to get promoted and they intend to focus on pay,” he said of Gen Z.

As for Generation Z as consumers, companies need to prove to them they can be trusted and realize this growing group realizes the data about them is valuable to those companies and they are likely discerning when it comes to sharing the information. While millennial consumers have the reputation for gravitating to environmentally friendly food brands and companies, Gen Z is focused on value and excellence and trust like-minded people.

Regardless of generation, brands are like a romantic relationship, Fromm said. And just like any potential love connection, consumers seek consistency and spontaneity. Most brands succeed with consistency but not so much when it comes to spontaneity. And with the competition in all food industry channels, if consumers get bored with one brand, switching to a different one has never been easier. To find out what causes brand switching, Fromm shared the outcome of research conducted by Barkley on consumers across all segments between the ages of 16 and 65. In short, “Young people start trends,” Fromm said, “and everyone else usually follows.” Mobile pay transactions at Starbucks, for example, were started by young consumers and their older counterparts jumped on the bandwagon.

When it comes to developing business plans around food products and brands, companies are advised to pay attention to the mindsets of their customers, Fromm said. Successful brands pay attention to the mindset created in social circles, including the buzz created from word of mouth and word of “mouse” and they become a part of social conversations. Secondly, the mindset known as self, which Fromm described as the emotional connection a consumer has to a brand, creates a preference that often overshadows other buying behaviors, including price. Innovation is the third mindset brands must address, which he said includes attributes of usefulness and novelty, whether it is the product offering itself, the customer experience, content or “anything you do as a brand or organization to be wildly useful.” At least a small part of any company’s innovation should be disruptive, according to Fromm along with a larger portion focused on sustaining innovation.  

Speaking of disruption, he pointed out that the fresh meat case has been slow to evolve or develop over the years despite the demand for protein growing at a rapid rate. That demand is no longer supplied only by the meat department as other forms of protein, including yogurt and plant-based foods have gained market share by appealing to convenience and flexibility.

Trust is the fourth mindset Fromm addressed and is one that needs to be well seeded because if there is a trust hiccup, no amount of advertising and communication will help. The fifth is accessibility, which translates into hyper-convenient and hyper-useful. The sixth mindset driving consumers is what purpose or a cause the brand or product supports, and a brand can usually command a premium of about 10 percent by promoting and supporting a societal purpose.

“We’re all in the business of realizing that we have opportunities to reimagine our best possible future,” Fromm said, which is one of the goals of a copyrighted research report Barkley is offering for free, entitled: “Building a Modern Food Brand.”