New York Produce Show: Future proof fresh produce by engaging Generation Z

Nic Jooste, Cool Fresh

Nic Jooste, Cool Fresh

Ana Iacob Photography

Generation Z kids Luca and Milan
Generation Z kids Luca and Milan
Guest speaker at the NYPS Global Trade Symposium, Nic Jooste, unveils unique research on how the fresh produce industry can avoid being “left swiped” by generation Z.

Creeping up right behind Millennials is the next tribe that is even more mysterious, will be an even bigger, stronger consumer force and has even less of an attention span - Generation Z. Defined as those born between 1996 and 2010, the Gen Z’s are coming up thick and fast, predicted to outsize the Millennial generation by one million. Not only are they the next wave of consumers, their spending power is strong right now through the influence these digital natives have on each other, their parents as of course the might of their own money.

Recognising the importance of the next generation of fresh produce consumers, Dutch fruit importer, Cool Fresh, has undertaken a unique research project with students in the Netherlands to analyse how best to communicate with Generation Z. Nic Jooste presented his findings during the Global Trade Symposium at the recent New York Produce Show and PBUK was there to learn more.

“The power of Generation Z, it sounds like an alien movie and to a certain extent there’s some correlation between them.”

In the first slide, Jooste introduces two of his teenage sons; Luca is studying to be a Chinese tea master, is trained in classical violin and spends most of his money on organically produced hair care products. Milan is in two straight edge punk rock bands (whatever that is), writes poetry and is a barista for sustainably produced coffee, explains Jooste.

“They’re my children but I do not understand them at all. But what do we know about generation Z? They’re the first generation after Millennials and we have no idea how to handle them so we just forget about them. In the US they have about $44 billion of their own money and influence of family spending of about US$600 million. There’s no doubt these digital natives’ spending power in the future is going to be extremely high.”

Based in Rotterdam Cool Fresh has access to more than 758 million consumers, has operations in Spain and a lot of activity in Turkey. Fruit sourcing mainly comes from southern hemisphere companies but lately there’s more European produce coming into the business. Its market covers most of Europe and also includes the Middle East and Far East.

“We are bold, we have never been scared to do funny things or to go into uncharted territories. If there’s something in the industry that is going to possibly be interesting, we are going to develop it.

“Together with boldness you need a certain amount of creativity, to think out of the box, doing stuff that has probably not been done before and you need to be able to look into the future. We can’t do that by ourselves so we go to universities in Holland, currently working with four of them. “

Jooste met Matthew a student who had just finished his commercial economy studies with a thesis proposal formulated around generation Z. When Matthew joined forces with Jooste’s two sons and then more kids got into the mix, Joost began to see how the mindset of Gen Z works.

“When he said things like they have a short attention span, they think in 3D and 4D, we thought it sounded like something we would like to do and we gave him the go ahead.

“What we tried to do is to look into the future and clean up the windshield a little bit so we can navigate. We wanted to know how this generation would react to the produce we hold so dear and products with a sustainable character whether it’s environmental or being socially engaged.

“We looked at companies with big budgets and how they communicate with this new generation. The best examples are Red Bull sending a guy up into space with a balloon and getting him to jump. When 9 million people watch an event on YouTube at the same time, that’s pretty good marketing.

“Coca Cola’s name on the can promotion which created a global community of people who really wanted to be part of it, and Nike is always on the edge, always challenging, always daring and they’re doing stuff that we as fresh produce people wouldn’t think about.”

During the research, there was external analysis, lots of focus groups and discussions with consumers with almost 1,300 surveyed.

Key findings about generation Z are;

  • Average attention span of eight seconds/ they consume in eight second bites

  • Younger than Google and the first generation to grow up with social media

  • Highly visual

  • They don’t have much faith in so-called experts

  • They want to make a difference in the world

“We saw that generation Z is really going to be a disruption. but there will also be so major opportunities.

“35 percent of kids say they buy fruit themselves, 64 percent say that someone else buys it for them, but one a scale of one to 10, they give it a 7.7 that they can influence the decision with the person buying the food.

“What we heard from our discussions with generation Z is they know that from the minute they become aware they also embrace the responsibility to do something or at least to think about it.”

From the analysis it was clear to Joost that consumer behaviour is changing and that sustainability is going to be an even bigger issue in the future.

“It (sustainability) has already become so in Europe where retailers are saying ‘if you're not certified at a certain level then we will not do business with you’. It has also become a container concept; people have stuck all sorts of things into this container from environment, social issues to labour conditions. And sustainability has become very muddled in a sense.

“They said they liked brands but we’re not really that loyal because they like to try new things, but only if the story is good. We spoke to them about the importance of sustainability and they rate it as a 7.3, but in the future it will be 8.7.”

A large part of a company’s role is to ‘make the world a better place’, according to generation Z and if you don’t make something relevant to these kids, and quickly, forget about it.

The gorilla effect

Having first launched the Freedom Fruit brand in 2003 Cool Fresh has an extensive back catalogue of videos and content to tell their story, including sustainability projects involving building a community centre in Costa Rica where they source pineapples, proving leadership training in South Africa and library initiatives for impoverished children.

“We have all the movies, three minutes to 10 minutes, we have the stories,” adds Jooste.

“Then they reminded me that today the average attention span of generation Z is eight seconds but they decide within three to five seconds whether you are relevant to them or not. Your sustainability with fruit also needs to appeal to the lifestyle, the conviction or the emotions of these kids.”

Promotional advertising for sustainability needs to be short, appealing, humorous important, have a good story and not try too hard to be cool. Generation Z behaviour, whether it’s online, at home, at school, on the subway, in the car, in the store, is summed up by Jooste.

“They swipe you out of their lives within three seconds. If your story is not good, then you go.”

At this point he cues up a short, fast-paced marketing video with a selfie-taking gorilla as the central character. It’s lightening speed, quirky, bright and a little confusing to the audience.

“I said what the hell is that? A gorilla in a fruit movie, where does this comes from? They said every time you return from travels you tell us about these great adventures, in Peru, Costa Rica, and Egypt. It seems like it's one big adventure. Fruit grows on trees, trees are in the jungle and gorillas are in the jungle. For them it was easy - a gorilla in the movie.”

How would you promote this in stores?

“Not just through your normal promotional posters. They turned it into a competition that if consumers bought this fruit they could win an adventure visiting all the fruit growers, they gave the gorilla a voice and turned it into something that is very understandable to them - making selfies. For them it's normal the gorilla would have a self stick.”

The generation Z team also had the idea for a promotional clothing range, thought about sponsoring skateboarding competitions and using promotions in bus terminals and where loads of kids hang out.

“Will this thing work? We have no idea. But I suggest you book your tickets and I’ll give you the proof at next year’s show,” Jooste tells the audience.

“But this makes sense for any guy who needs to defend a marketing budget, it cost zero euros. What we learned is that you don’t have the time for a marketing or advertising agency, making three-month analysis and plans, because from minute to minute they change, so it's far better to involve them and make them part of the team.”

“My generation, we were rebels without a cause, we wanted to fight, we wanted to do things but we didn’t really know what. The new generation, they have a cause, they know everything, they see everything, they have an opinion about everything. You will never win an argument with a generation Z kid because they know better than us old folks."


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