Almost two decades ago, marketing companies, news outlets and market research firms across the country issued a warning to American marketers and employers: The oldest millennials soon would be coming of age, and the rest of us had better prepare for it.

Since then, it’s been difficult to escape all the millennial-related buzz. This mega-generation of 72 million-plus, which the Pew Research Center defines as anyone born between 1981 and 1996, is “likely the most studied generation to date,” the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation noted in its 2012 “The Millennial Generation Research Review” report. All that research has brought with it mountains of data aimed at helping companies market to these young adults, as well as hire and retain them.

Millennials’ time in the spotlight might be almost over, however. After all, the oldest members of Generation Z, defined by the Pew Research Center as those born from 1997 onward, are now in their early 20s. Moreover, Gen Z now outnumbers all other generations, including millennials, globally — accounting for 32% of the population, according to a Jan. 25, 2020, New York Post article.


Peers are influencers

This sizable up-and-coming generation definitely should be top of mind for dairy brand marketers, as its members boast decidedly unique traits and values. In a panel discussion during the International Dairy Foods Association’s Dairy Forum in January, Michael Fanuele, president of Assembly Media; Sarah Hofstetter, president of Profitero; and Jaime Dictenberg, senior vice president of consumer marketing for Nickelodeon, weighed in on some of these.

Gen Zers are practical, Faneule pointed out. They also exhibit an “almost greedy consumption of content,” he added, viewing roughly six hours a day of video content. (They are busy content creators as well.)

What’s more, they demonstrate amazing “processing power” in relation to that content, Dictenberg added. Much of that content comes from their peer groups, which, thanks to their affinity for social media and everything online, are larger among Gen Zers in comparison to other generations. And peers within those groups have considerably more influencing power than any brand does.

“Brands don’t have control anymore,” Hofstetter emphasized, so they need to figure out “how they will participate” in the Gen Z world instead of trying to spark a new trend.


Not opposed to manufacturing

Although Gen Z might bring with it some marketing hurdles for dairy companies, the demographic actually presents a potential positive on the processing side. In the conversations I have had with dairy plant and operations management over the past three and a half years, one challenge stands out: the difficulty of hiring and retaining plant employees.

As it turns out, however, adult members of Gen Z “are 19% more likely to have had a counselor, teacher or mentor suggest they look into manufacturing as a viable career option when compared to the general population,” according to a report from Leading2Lean based on its 2019 L2L Manufacturing Index. Compared to the general population, Gen Zers also are 7% more likely to consider working in manufacturing.


Worth pursuing

I take “generational generalities” with a grain of salt. That is probably because my oldest child, a millennial, has more traits and values in common with his 12-years-younger Gen Zer brother than he does with his fellow millennial sister. And as a tail-end baby boomer, I feel as though I have little in common with boomers who actually were teens or young adults during the hippie counterculture movement.

However, every generation does have some traits and values that a significant percentage of its members share. Dairy companies that choose to familiarize themselves on a few Gen Z basics could come out winners on both the marketing and employment fronts.