By Jared Wareham
All of my grandparents belonged to the “Greatest Generation,” an American era filled with hardships and wartime heroics that forged them into one of society’s most revered groups. Each subsequent generation has yet to stimulate that same magnitude of emotion—until now.
The younger portion of the Millennials and Generation Z are creating a tsunami of panic and stress throughout our economy. Companies that once anchored their market strategies to preceding generations are quickly learning that the game is changing. These mavericks of the 21st century will not be stymied by a lack of innovation.
Production agriculture is connected to every industry and consumer in America through food and byproducts. How these generations apply value to our products and decide to spend their money is precisely what we should be analyzing.
Just ask a billion dollar company like McDonald’s. Recently, this global juggernaut has lost substantial market share to new “fast, casual” eating establishments, such as Chipotle. Why? Younger Americans don’t
“value” fast food products like previous generations have or respond to marketing the same way. These mutineers have the willingness and ability to spend money for quality protein products, but their value proposition is shifting. The convenience of McDonald’s is still important, but their lack of innovation in food preparation, as well as health and wellness, makes them less appealing to younger Americans.
The appeal of a great quality steak or burger is at an all-time high with Baby Boomers and Generation X. Our price elasticity toward proteins has been predictably linked to quality. We love beef—and we really love great beef. However, the definition of “quality” is different for Millennials and Generation Z. They relate food quality to how it is raised, how healthy it is and how good it tastes. A higher percentage are counting calories and focusing on healthy living. They’re bombarded with rhetoric like “additives are subtractive”—as witnessed at Chipotle.
Traditionally, the ability of young generations to affect commerce was negligible. Not so anymore. Their financial ability to choose far exceeds their predecessors. Disposable income is a major factors to these changes and allows consumers to expand their decision making paradigm beyond “what do I need” to “what do I want and how do I feel about paying that much?”
Consumer emotion has stuck its foot squarely in the door jam. Fast casual dining experiences such as Chipotle offer the ability to build your own meal and promise healthy foods grown the “right” way. This innovative approach to food service is lethally appealing to consumers age 25 and under.
Pay close attention. At some point, the economic position of these new generation consumers will be large enough to be felt downstream. Don’t be afraid of them; be an ambassador for our beef industry. Embrace their changing idealism and proactively spread our positive message through new, invigorated marketing. U.S. cattlemen produce a high quality, superbly delicious protein source and do so with a
momentously reduced carbon footprint.