Small but mighty: it is time to connect with Generation Alpha
They may still be young, and most of their purchases are still being made by their parents, but Generation Alpha already has a powerful voice, and these ‘new’ consumers, who are the most racially and ethnically diverse group to date, are intent on being heard when it comes to what they like and dislike, what they believe in, and what products and brands align with their values. By Anne-Marie Hardie
The small and mighty cohort of Generation Alpha, born between 2010 and 2024, are empowered and engaged using digital platforms, including the metaverse, to discover brands and experiences, including coffee and tea culture. Although they may not be actively consuming caffeinated beverages, they are learning which products align with their values and encouraging their millennial parents to follow their lead.
By 2025, McCrindle Research, Norwest Australia, predicts that this demographic will consist of two billion individuals who will be the most racially and ethnically diverse group to date. Defining Generation Alpha is not a simple task as there is still little research conducted directly on this group due to their young age. As a result, most of the information acquired about Generation Alpha is from their parents.
“We are kind of hypothesising how they will be different than Generation Z, but the one thing that we have often seen is that every generation is a reaction to the one that came right before it,” said Ashley Fell, director of advisory, McCrindle Research, Norwest, Australia, and co-author of Generation Alpha. She emphasised the importance of brands investing the time to understand and empower this generation.
“We often use five keywords to describe them and the world that has shaped them: digital, social, global, mobile, and visual. They have been raised in the great screen age, education’s moving more online, and then we had the pandemic, which really integrated technology into their lives,” said Fell.
Growing up in café culture
Café culture has become normalised by their millennial parents, with children participating in the experience with caffeine-free and child friendly alternatives. This demographic’s milkshake and hot chocolates have expanded into blended drinks that they can customise with a variety of syrups and toppings. Although they are most likely not drinking coffee yet, they have been exposed to the vocabulary and the culture from an early age. Tea and tisanes, more specifically, are being sought out for their wellness attributes and aesthetic experience, with products, like matcha, butterfly pea flower, and turmeric, being used to create brightly hued beverages.
“Mothers are recognising that tea, or more specifically botanicals, should be a part of the conversation,” said Cindi Bigelow, president and CEO, Bigelow Tea, Fairfield, Connecticut. “We have seen that through the success in our new items, specifically, the chamomile lavender probiotics and the new botanical line which is infused in cold water.”
The last two years have increased the demand for healthier alternatives, with products like, Bigelow’s Cozy Chamomile and Lemon Ginger with probiotics, continuing to be top sellers. “We’ve had a lot of questions about both the health benefits and caffeine levels,” said Bigelow.” Families are trying to drink more water, and products like the botanical line really make it easier.” Bigelow’s Cold Infusion Line, which includes child-friendly flavours including blackberry raspberry hibiscus and peach lemonade acai, has also appealed to parents providing them with the wellness attributes they are seeking in a highly convenient format.
Generation Alpha is influenced by the practices of their parents, so brands have the challenging task of creating products and marketing tools that connect with both demographics. According to The Food Institute, millennial parents tend to seek food that is ethically sourced, organic, and non-GMO. They readily support companies that have brand transparency and provide an effortless digital experience. However, the influence goes both ways, as the older Generation Alphas urge their parents to make purchase decisions that are sustainable and ethical. “Eight out of ten parents that we surveyed said that they’ve had their consumption decisions impacted by the generation alpha children in a positive way,” said Fell. “They’re questioning why we’re using plastic and encouraging parents to purchase reusable products; they are having an influence even though they’re very young.”
Experiential marketing is key
Toy companies have recognised the marketing potential in the coffee experience, with several brands including Fisher Price, Mattel, Hape Toys, and Melissa and Doug releasing coffee and tea themed products, including latte teethers, Barbie cafés, tea sets, and coffee makers designed for the preschool playroom.
“They’re very visual. We often say that this generation is more likely to watch a video on YouTube than read about something on Google,” said Fell. “They’ve got shorter attention spans and expect information to be delivered in an engaging way, so I think that the message for marketing and communication professionals is that they will have to work hard to make the information interesting.”
As the generation ages, they are becoming extremely value-oriented, including wanting to be aligned with brands with a strong purpose. “They’ve got to be personal brand managers, and they’re aware of what they’re putting out online, including how the organisations they choose to purchase from align with their values,” said Fell.
The future of marketing will most likely need to involve engagement through the metaverse, with companies investing in creating simulations where avatars can engage in the product and the experience in a virtual format. “If you ask any big organisation why they’re going on the metaverse, the answer is Generation Alpha, who are already engaged in several platforms including Minecraft, Roblox, and Fortnight,” said Fell. “That’s sort of the next iteration of the Internet, and that’s where this younger generation will probably be operating.”
One example of a large brand engaging in the metaverse is Sanrio, Tokyo, Japan, which developed its Hello Kitty Café for the Roblox platform this past April. The simulator allows users to build and operate a café, including making their own café menu. “As the world moves to the digital space, we are evolving with our audience to create authentic digital experiences that are uniquely Sanrio,” said Craig Takiguchi, chief operating officer and head of business development at Sanrio, Inc. “Sanrio’s online presence will allow players of all ages to express themselves through our characters and extend the inclusive and kind Sanrio community to the digital world.”
Responding to a gap in the industry
When Drink Pearly, Toronto, Ontario, launched DIY bubble tea kits, co-founder Filip Pejic anticipated that their core audience was Generation Z and Millennials, who might want an option to brew at home. The product did resonate with millennials, but not in the way the company had initially anticipated. Drink Pearly quickly learned that it was Generation Alpha who were engaged in the experience.
“Parents send us videos of their children experiencing the product, and they are thrilled with the entire process,” said Pejic. The parents are initially attracted to the product for its convenience and cost. However, Generation Alpha returns to it for the unique experience. “They’ve (the parents) told us that the packaging looks well thought through and that they appreciate the fact that we are transparent and active on social media,” said Pejic. “They are looking for products that they can trust. They want to ensure that there is a real person at the other end.”
Based out of Lanham, Maryland, Flyest’s founder Shanae Jones blends her knowledge of plant science and herbs with pop culture, specifically Hip Hop, to develop a brand that responds to the values of its customers. “I founded Flyest Tea with the purpose of speaking to an entire group and generation of tea drinkers that have been left out of the conversation,” said Shanae Jones, certified herbalist and founder of Flyest Tea. “A majority of Generation Alpha is growing up in a world that stresses the importance of self-care; however, it’s important that they see themselves in that world too. That is why I use hip-hop as a way to connect with a new audience.”
The ideation process for new products includes crowd sourcing with their customers through Instagram. For example, their Nip’s Tea blend, for example, was created from customer’s requests to honour the rapper and activist Nipsey Hussle. In addition to creating the blend, Flyest donates the proceeds to an accelerator bootcamp for Black entrepreneurs, further aligning the brand with their consumers’ values. “Hip-hop has become such an integral part of our culture in the same way that I hope to see tea and herbs take hold- it’s about building a community around something that makes you feel good and allows you to express yourself,” said Jones. “Tea can be fun and beneficial at the same time just by you putting your own spin on how you use it.”
Although the individuals from Generation Alpha are still in the process of establishing their voice, it is not too early to foster connections with this demographic. This is already a cohort that is making an impact including influencing their peers and parents on their consumer choices, making it essential that they feel recognised by the brands that they are exposed to. “Every brand product or company is just one generation away from irrelevancy,” said Fell. “Generation Alpha is going to be the largest generation ever who are the most formally educated, and they’re going to have economic influence; if brands don’t engage with them, they’ll edge towards extinction.”
- Anne-Marie Hardie is a freelance writer, professor and speaker based in Barrie, Ontario. She may be reached at: [email protected].