The children are the future. And in this case, I sincerely hope it’s true.
The vast majority of Generation Z have no problem with a tech-savvy food future. A study performed by Ketchum, a New York-based communications firm, found that 77 percent of Gen Z are just fine with food produced using technology. Only 67 percent of Millennials, 58 percent of Gen Xers, and 58 percent of Baby Boomers said the same.
The findings are certainly a welcome change. Consumer acceptance is the biggest obstacle for the industry’s adoption of further technology. A casual walk through the grocery store tells us as much. The shelves are filled with products bearing the indefensible Non-GMO Project label and completely meaningless terms like “all natural.” The market obviously supports use of these marketing gimmicks, and that’s a reflection of consumer demands.
But as Gen Z grows up and starts making more grocery-shopping choices, we could see a shift. They make up 26 percent of the population, and directly spend between $29 billion and $143 billion. There is a huge potential for tapping into this market and dumping old-fashioned fear-based marketing.
There is a catch though: Companies hoping to successfully integrate technology need to first introduce consumers to food tech. And that includes both scientifically supported information and emotional tactics. So companies need to explain the how and the why. They should explain how they produced the food and why that matters.
The introduction to food tech is so important for public acceptance. It’s a lesson Monsanto wished it learned earlier. If they had, we may be living in a much different world.
I remember visiting Monsanto’s headquarters in St. Louis a couple of years ago. We were literally in the belly of the beast speaking with the folks who helped launch genetically engineered crops nearly 20 years earlier. Back then the company thought they only had to sell the idea of GMOs to their consumers — farmers. They never spared a thought about convincing the general public to accept them, too.
Unfortunately, we’re still reeling from the blowback of that huge mistake. Environmental groups, which were mostly opposed to Monsanto, turned the narrative upside down. Most people don’t know that GMOs are environmentally friendly, farmer-friendly, and consumer-friendly. Instead, activists turned GMOs into a scary monster lurking in your pantry (quite literally — “Frankenfoods” anyone?). And that’s how we landed here.
Gen Z could be a turning point. The people eating and buying the food are open to what we’re doing. They aren’t afraid of technology and science. And they understand that progress in those areas can help solve real-world problems. So long as companies take the right approach, we could get past this atmosphere of fear.
Imagine that. A world where you can walk into the grocery store and see a whole different type of packaging. Where we now have meaningless labels, we could have food companies focused on increased nutrition and lowering empty calories. Shoppers would look for what’s in their food and not what’s not in the product. We could ask about where agriculture is going and how it can solve more of the world’s problems, instead of blaming farmers for everything that’s currently wrong.
Oh, what a world! I sincerely hope Gen Z can help usher in this better world.
Amanda Zaluckyj blogs under the name The Farmer’s Daughter USA. Her goal is to promote farmers and tackle the misinformation swirling around the U.S. food industry.