FONA, the Illinois-based ingredient company, has released data looking at how Generation Z and Generation Alpha will shape consumer behavior in the years to come.

The insights, part 1 of which was released this week as part of the report, “All About the Kids: Part I: Generational Comparisons & Their Flavor Favorites,” are both exciting and a little jarring.

But, I think we need to back up a second, and take a moment to note that is the very time I have heard the term, “Generation Alpha.”

Apparently that’s what we’re calling the generation born after 2012, as “Alpha” refers to the first letter of the Greek Alphabet and they are the first generation to be born entirely in the 21st Century, according to Wikipedia.

It’s also a little discombobulating to realize how fast Gen Z is growing up. Born between 1997 and 2012, the oldest ones are already out of college and in the professional world.

Bear with me as I process the fact that my generation, millennials, has gotten so old that I’m writing about two generations below me and how they will shape consumer trends.

Ok. I just put on some wrinkle cream and we can move forward now.

So as you may expect the two younger generations are native in technology, and they are growing up in a world that’s more diverse in culture and lifestyle.

“There is a sophistication and savviness to youngsters spanning in age from toddlers through teens, along with a newfound adaptability in the face of a global pandemic,” the FONA report notes. “Although they are usually not the primary purchaser, they influence their fair share of family food and drink decisions and are growing up adept in the kitchen.”

Let’s break it down a bit.

Gen Z

First, let’s start with Gen Z. FONA’s report shows:

  • Gen Z now number around 24 million in the U.S. They will soon make up 40 percent of all consumers for a $3 trillion (with a “t”) market.
  • They are digital natives and online almost constantly, watching and scrolling YouTube and social media platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, where they have a penchant for posting about foods and drinks they enjoy.
  • Gen Z is more racially and ethnically diverse than any previous generation.
  • Defined by activism, they work to make changes across several fronts, from the environment to racial justice to health and wellness. They wield purchase power in loyalties to brands and companies that share their ideals.
  • Gen Z values individual expression and authenticity, including from those who make products they consume.
  • They like ethnic foods and are open to trying new foods, but they have a simpler palate compared to Millennials, for now at least.

Generation Alpha

And what about Generation Alpha? Here, the data shows:

  • Kids in Generation Alpha are still quite young – the oldest are 7 or 8 — but they are also digital natives. In fact, most of them have never been without portable digital devices and, compared to previous generations including Gen Z, are growing up with fewer practical skills.
  • And 50 percent of parents reported in a Datassential survey that their children like more adventurous ethnic cuisines, including Indian, Peruvian, Vietnamese and Moroccan fare.
  • While 72 percent of Millennials with kids say their families are consuming plant-based meats more often.
  • Because they are connected electronically, this generation is particularly influenced by general trends, including general food trends.

And all the kids love to snack, which has only been amplified by the changes we’ve all endured as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. More people staying home equals more snacking opportunities after all.

FONA says:

  • Snacks account for about 27 percent of calories consumed by kids.
  • More than four in 10 parents want to see more snack options for kids ages 3 and older.
  • Flavor is still the main driver of snack choice for all consumers, with 79 percent of consumers (including parents) reporting that flavor is more important than brands when choosing snacks.

So what can we glean from all this?

Well, FONA’s takeaways are:

“Today’s kids, those part of Generation Alpha and the younger end of Generation Z, are exposed to more adventurous foods but also appreciate classic kid-friendly flavors and products. To please their palates – and their parents – food developers can make foods fun with interesting flavors, colors and formats. In the COVID-19 era of at-home schooling and concerns about illness, gatekeepers will also be interested in foods and beverages with health and wellness benefits, at least over the next year.”

I have to confess, I’m kind of excited about what’s to come. I’m sincerely hopeful that those in the next two generations will be more open to diversity in our world, and at the supermarket. And that they will use the powers of technology for good in our world. 

But I can’t help but think about the many ways the COVID-19 pandemic could impact them in the years to come. They are being asked to navigate truly traumatic events that most adults haven’t even done a good job coping with.

We can only hope that they take the best lessons from all of it, and use it to make the world a better place.

And the best way to facilitate that is to rally around them as they do it. I can only hope that my generation will take to heart the years of unfair criticism we’ve endured for being too narcissistic and too selfish and that we’ll be a little kinder and a little more welcoming of the kids coming up behind us.

After all, it already sounds like we could learn a lot from them.

For the full part 1 of the report, and to read part 2 when it’s released, visit the FONA website.