Recognising the power and potential in Generation Z

It is the most diverse generation to date and holds billions in buying power. Poised to spend even more as they age, Generation Z is the future. Brands across all industries have no choice but to get to know these consumers because they hold strong beliefs and convictions, have specific likes and dislikes, are tech and social media savvy, and they manifest their activism and passions in many ways. By Anne-Marie Hardie

There is a new and upcoming beverage consumer in the tea and coffee landscape, Generation Z. These individuals are passionate advocates guided by their values and actively seek brands to which they can relate. Currently, between 11 and 25 years old, they are cautious explorers eager to try new flavours and beverage experiences. However, they expect a lot from their favourite brands, including strong sustainability platforms, authenticity, and transparency.

Although still young, they are beginning to develop their beverage habits, making it a critical time for tea and coffee brands to connect with them. “For tea and coffee companies, it’s about recruiting the next generation and bringing them into the next pipeline of customers,” said Vanessa Toperczer, vice president, brand and product integration, IMI, Toronto, Canada.

The future of coffee and tea

Born between 1996 and 2010, this demographic is genuinely unlike any previous cohorts. Generation Z – ‘Gen Z’ or ‘i-Gen’ – is the first truly digital natives, resulting in an extremely internet savvy demographic, including the ability to delve deeper into brand claims to confirm that they are authentic.

“Generation Z are different than other generations before them. They are more individualistic and true digital natives,” said Mary Dusenbury, senior director of Away From Home Marketing, Peet’s Coffee. Digital technology is not just something that they access, but it is simply a way of life. “This is a generation that doesn’t understand the phrase “before the internet existed,” said Shabnam Weber, president, Tea and Herbal Association Canada. “It is a show me, not tell me, generation.” When it comes to social media, they prefer visual platforms like TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram, preferring to see their brand stories than read about them.

Gen Zers like sweet and spicy profiles and prefer cold coffee beverages over hot ones.

Gen Z has grown up amid several global crises, including global warming, the 2008 recession and the pandemic, creating a generation that is often defined as thrifty and practical.

They are financially minded with a focus on the future, including wanting to own a home, start a family, and have a significant savings account. Generation Z are both dreamers and doers and are looking for brands that invest the time to understand who they are and reflect their values.

The impact of the pandemic

Although, Gen Z is the least likely to become severely ill during the pandemic, all aspects of their lives were, and continue to be, disrupted. This cohort has missed many monumental events over the past two years, including in-person graduations, proms, birthdays, classroom trips, and events. Education was either put on hold or moved to an online format, and there was a spike in unemployment directly impacting service and entry-level positions, both which have a significant proportion of Gen Z employees. Their mental health is at risk, with high levels of depression, anxiety, and feelings of social isolation, as this younger generation is confronted with several global and national challenges including climate change, violence, and a pandemic.

“They interact differently than previous generations; the last few years have been transformational, they socialise differently,” said Sylvain Charlebois, professor and senior director, Agri-Food Analytics, Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia, Canada. “It’s going to have an effect on everything, their food choices, how they drink coffee, where they drink coffee, and with whom.”

When communicating with Gen Zers, tea and coffee companies need to acknowledge the pandemic’s impact and meet them where they are today. This includes developing an online community, including using platforms like TikTok and Instagram, to showcase brand values and develop authentic connections.

“For this generation, everything is new, and everything is possible; however, they are also faced with the challenge of skyrocketing housing prices and an extremely high cost of living,” said Charlebois. As a direct result, it has created a generation that is a bit more domesticated. “Drinking beverages from home is going to continue to be a driver for the next little while, especially for the younger generation,” said Charlebois.

Tapping into wellness

The values that this generation embodies hold lots of potential for tea and coffee companies to tap into. “There is certainly a more educated, informed and passionate tea drinker emerging and Generation Z are really leading the way,” said Louise Cheadle, Teapigs co-founder and tea taster. “We know that Generation Z is thirsty for information and often keep up to date by using social media, so we make sure we’ve got plenty of up-to-date information online and on our social to keep the conversations about these important topics relevant.”

Physical and mental health are extremely important, and they recognise the role that their diet and lifestyle play in supporting this. “Any drink that is low in sugar, big in taste and that has a function or positive benefit towards your health or wellness, such as our matcha, kombucha or feel-good tea range, is going to go down really well with Generation Z,” said Cheadle.

This is a cohort that is intrigued by functional foods and are eager to explore ingredients that support their wellbeing, including a variety of spices, botanicals, and superfoods, like chaga, acai, and blueberries. At the same time, they embrace customisation, creating the beverage that responds to both their wellness and flavour needs including blending products, adding syrups, or natural spices and botanicals. “Gen Z won’t put up with substandard drinks out of home, especially since people have been spending more money trying new flavours and interesting products during lockdowns,” said Cheadle. Demonstrating how beverages can support the mental and physical wellness will resonate well with these consumers, including providing research that confirms these claims. The health benefits of green tea and herbal tisanes, specifically, resonate strongly with this demographic; however, there is still room to strengthen these messages and add to them.

Functional beverages or beverages that positively benefit mental or physical wellness appeal to Gen Zers.

“The pandemic has accelerated the values that were already important for this demographic, specifically self-care and societal care,” said Weber. “Although, societal care and wellness are important elements of their beverages, it cannot be at the expense of flavour and quality of the product,” said Weber.

When it comes to coffee, they like both sweet and spicy profiles, and show a preference for cold beverages, over hot options. Peet’s Coffee responds to this audience’s need by creating seasonal menus and adapting to demand. This includes adding in features, like their upcoming Churro campaign, which cater to the sweet profiles that Gen Z craves. “Gen Z doesn’t want the same coffee that their parents and grandparents drink and they don’t want the same exact coffee their friends order,” said Dusenbury. “They want their coffee to be specialised for their unique tastes, while having a positive impact on people and our planet.”

Health for themselves and the planet

Sustainability has always been an incredibly important value for them; however, the pandemic has accelerated it. They also are very aware about the role of the supply chain with consumers connecting dots, looking at each step, including who is involved, how much they are paid, and if their needs are being responded to. “You have to be authentic and it’s not just about transparency but understanding, and sharing, the role of your entire supply chain,” said Charlebois.

This generation is extremely conscious of the brands that they align with and are looking for companies that support their values. They are not driven to purchase an item because it is on social media, but they might be driven to purchase because the message resonates with them, and they feel connected to the product.

“Talking about the good that you do isn’t enough, brands need to show what they’ve been doing,” said Weber. It is about connecting the consumer to the stories behind the product and sharing these stories through a visual platform. “Tea has so many incredible stories. “Stories that relate to the values that this demographic holds dearly including sustainability, societal values, and the individuals along the supply chain will help foster that authentic connection.

The reality is that this is a demographic that believes that they can make an impact, are not afraid to voice their opinion, and will urge others to follow suit. They are advocates and change-makers and seek out brands that align with their values, whether its diversity, inclusivity, wellness, or sustainability.

“Gen Z is willing to purchase premium coffee when they know the brand they support is promoting responsible sourcing, helping the planet and the communities where their drinks come from,” said Dusenbury. For brands, it is about understanding where the interactions with this demographic will occur, whether its in the café, online or at a college campus, and use these opportunities to discuss your brand’s story, including your social responsibility efforts.

“We believe it is a requirement in these settings to talk about the work we are doing for the greater good.”

  • Anne-Marie Hardie is a freelance writer, professor and speaker based in Barrie, Ontario. She may be reached at: [email protected].

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