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Will pork fit on Gen Z's plate?

UNL marketing consultant shares macro forces of change impacting Generation Z's food preferences.

They were born between 1997 and 2015 and are presently in the 5- to 25-years-old age range. They received their first mobile phone around the age of 10, and on average spend three hours a day on their mobile device. There are nearly 86 million of them in the United States, and they make up roughly 25% of the population.

They are Generation Z, the next class of consumers to dominate the market, and have much different demands than Millennials. Will they be demanding pork?

Carrie Horazeck says it may not be a daily consumptive habit for this generation, but there are opportunities to engage with these centennials and get more pork on their plates.

"They are eating less meat, but at the same time, they are a much more diverse population, and in some of those key diversity cohorts, you're not seeing that decrease as much," says the innovation and foresight consultant with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources Dean's office. "Whether it's pushing for different recipes or celebrating different cultural nuances that drive forward experiences, for example, Hispanic, Asian American types of dishes, where in particular pork consumption is still very prolific and very much celebrated, where those percentages rise within the generation, you're going to have those influencers that will then in turn, reinforce the mainstream kind of cohort to say, please engage in the recipes, engage in this consumption because it's a celebration of our culture."

Horazeck, who grew up on a cattle farm in Virginia and has experience in corporate consulting with Fortune 500 businesses, including Coca-Cola and Anheuser-Busch, shared those "macro forces of change that are really impacting Generation Z's food preferences" during her presentation last week at the virtual Nebraska Pork Expo.

The first is climate change.

"Regardless of where you personally sit on this topic, it's important for us as producers to know that for Generation Z, climate change is an existential crisis," Horazeck says. "So, whether it is 'Friday's for the Future' or many of the things that you have seen on this, on the news, 84% of this generation view themselves as the generation that will really have to come to terms with some of the major ramifications of our changing climate and they see huge connections, connections between, for example, climate change and global pandemics, or climate change and natural disasters. It is incredibly important, and they will hold their own brands to account when they enter the marketplace."

For Gen Z, Horazeck says the public sector is simply too slow in controlling what they consider a crisis and as a result, many of them are turning to the private sector to take responsibility for solving this problem. Examples of this initiative are the start-up innovative biodegradable packaging for fruits and vegetables or breweries that are beginning to brew beer from waste products from restaurants.

"Is the industry really ready to meet this generation's consumer demands for environmental responsibility? And if you are, that is absolutely fantastic," Horazeck says. "I would encourage you to celebrate your story and to really get it out there in the digital landscape, where the generation can see all of the good work that you are doing, but please do keep in mind that for this generation, this topic is an existential crisis, and it is something that they will bring with them as consumers to their own purchasing experience."

The second major macro force is the demographic shifts. According to the U.S. Census Bureau data, 2044 is predicted as the year that the United States nationwide reaches majority minority status. Horazeck says there are 109 counties in the United States already today where the non-Hispanic, white population has fallen below 50%, and that can have a major influence on food and flavor preferences.

"I guarantee you that if you were to look at a spice cabinet of a Millennial or a Generation Z consumer in particular, you will see things like sriracha, spices from Africa, spices from Asia, a lot of different types of spices, than those Eurocentric spices that you would have seen in Baby Boomer cabinets," Horazeck says. "It's not to say that Generation Z doesn't use those spices, but they have incorporated a lot of new types of spices where companies like McCormick are currently trying to figure out how to come to terms with this new generation."

Horazeck says as Generation Z steps into the consumer limelight, that multicultural demographic makeup will impact how, and when they consume pork.

"Think about a reality of being brought up in a Hispanic household or an African household, or an Asian-American household, and how those recipes in particular will change how, and when the community will consume pork," Horazeck says. "Different members of Generation Z, who have a lot of friends that they go to their houses, that engage in these types of recipes and how that in turn will change their view of the pork industry."

Finally, Generation Z is a digital learning community.

"For Generation Z, technology is not a part of the world, technology is the world. How can you really position the industry to be transparent, accessible and, most importantly, sharable for consumers who will never know a pork producer in person," Horazeck says. "How can you still maintain that authentic feeling, relationship, perhaps through a digital landscape, through packaging, or just through storytelling that they can still feel like they truly understand your operation and they can be a part of it."

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