Appealing to a new generation of consumers is anything but child’s play. Fact is, navigating the wants and needs of young people who are just starting to make inroads into the marketplace can be tricky.
The good news: As the children of millennials (who are fundamentally a foodie generation with an avid interest in sustainable and clean label options),1 Gen Alpha is already coming into its own, and a clear profile is taking shape.
Spanning 2010 to 2024, with the oldest members just hitting their teenage years, Gen Alphas are influenced by their parents’ values yet developing their own preferences and expectations.
No Kidding: Why It's So Important to Get a Jump on Gen Alpha
Estimated to number nearly 2 billion people by 2025,1 Gen Alpha’s purchasing decisions could make or break the bottom line. Here are a few important things to keep in mind:
- According to Datassential research, 35% of restaurant operators agree that Gen Alpha is already important to their business.1
- Fifty-two percent of Gen Alpha’s parents allow their kids to pick their own meals at a restaurant.
- When grocery shopping, 77% of Gen Alpha’s parents make a point of purchasing items that both they and their kids will enjoy.2
- Gen Alpha is already developing strong brand loyalties, with around 80% of Gen Alpha’s parents reporting their children request a specific snack or food brand.
- Nearly as many parents cited the same tendency toward brand loyalty related to restaurants.
“From a very young age, kids are recognizing brands, they’re asking for specific products that they like,” explained Emily Moquin, a food and beverage analyst for the global decision intelligence company Morning Consult. “What’s also important for brands to understand is that this isn’t just pester power.”
Fed a steady diet of marketing and advertising through a combination of digital and in-store exposure, Gen Alpha may be acquiring brand loyalties earlier than any previous generation.
Bites of Insights: So What Exactly is Gen Alpha Hungry For?
Given their parents’ generational profile, Datassential forecasts that “Gen Alpha’s palates will likely be more adventurous compared to previous generations, more tuned into social media food trends and more open to global flavors, as they’re growing up in a more diverse setting. As such, in the years ahead, expect to see more dishes inspired by social media and more sophisticated dishes and flavors/ingredients trending on kids' menus.”2
According to Datassential Menu Trends, top-growing items on kids’ menus include plant-based chicken (+418%), boneless wings (+126%) and international inspirations like wagyu (+295%) and pho (+83%).2 Trend-forward dipping sauces include Sriracha (+229%) and honey barbecue (+216%), both of which pair perfect with chicken, for which Gen Alpha has shown a distinct taste.2
Making the Connection: Building Links to Digital Natives
Weaned on digital technology, Gen Alpha can be expected to be highly influenced by food trends on social media. In fact, many already are actively engaged in social media platforms. Nearly 20% of millennial parents report their kids spend one to two hours daily on social media, and over 50% of Gen Alpha are exploring YouTube under parental supervision.2 As a result, digital technology will be especially critical in reaching them.
As Zoe Scaman, the founder of Bodacious, a London-based strategy consultancy, explained: “Gen Alpha is the first generation that is growing up completely immersed in technology from day one, so they have never known a difference. Technology is fundamentally a part of their lives and intrinsically linked to everything that they do, from their entertainment to the way that they educate themselves and their forms of connection with each other, their friends and their parents.”
“That’s the lesson,” opined Lee Rolston, chief growth officer for John Knowles Ritchie, Burger King’s creative agency. “Go back to the best version of yourself and start from there, not from where you are today. Is it evolution? Is it a revolution? No. It’s just putting the brand back into the hand that was already latent in the mind.” Ritchie cited M&Ms as another example of a back-to-basics brand refresh.
Stepping Up to the Tablet: Leaning into Digital-First Marketing
Gen Alpha’s digital literacy is already formidable, with more than half of Gen Alpha already owning a tablet. Increasing digital exposure and decreasing in-store exposure put the onus on brands and manufacturers to meet Gen Alpha more closely through digital channels.
Morning Consult’s Moquin stresses the need to take a balanced approach. As she put it: “In-store exposure still is one of the key ways that kids might learn about a brand and ask for a specific brand … As [parents] spend less time taking the kids along on the store trips, there probably is more of a need to make sure those digital channels are ways that kids are learning about brands.”
Winning them over won’t be as easy as taking candy from a baby.
“These young consumers are also part of the innovation generation — for them, there will be no problem that tech can’t solve,” reports Morning Consult in A Brand’s Guide to Gen Alpha.
The challenge for food and beverage brands is finding the right mix of media and menu to acquire, build and retain this mission-critical generational consumer base. It’s also an opportunity of epic proportions, as Gen Alpha brings a feast of long-term potential to the table.
For more generational insights to help feed your business, be sure to read our post “The ABCs of Gen Z: Insights and Inroads to Help Food and Beverage Brands Drive Sales.”
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1 Datassential Foodbytes, 2023 Food Trends
2 Datassential Foodbytes, The ABC’s of Gen Alpha