Friday, March 31, 2023

Pizza Expo 2023: Key Takeaways to Better Market to Gen Z


The Las Vegas Convention Center hosted the 39th edition of the International Pizza Expo this past week. Attendees come primarily from mom-and-pop pizzerias across the country and the exhibitors cater to their needs with everything from ovens to pans to delivery boxes, and, of course, pizza-making ingredients, as well as pub grub like wings and Italian-inspired dishes such as pasta and cannoli.   

This was my second year in a row attending and there were some notable differences between the two years. These are differences that reflect the evolving consumer and differences that apply to other food sectors. 

Younger consumers view pizza as a canvas to taste the world. Those younger consumers are Gen Z, the group that has just started getting a decent paycheck and is using it to experience life, after all, so much was taken from them in their early years and they have little faith in the world going forward. 

That’s why Blaze Pizza, in the opinion of college kids, is “lit,” according to a report by Yelp and BrokeScholar. Of the 144 universities researched, 20 voted Blaze Pizza as their favorite fast-food restaurant. Seven Blaze locations received a Yelp rating of 4.5 stars out of 5. The pizza chain gained praise in part because it appeals to Gen Z’s demands for responsibly sourced ingredients and eco-friendly packaging, according to The Food Institute.

Blaze Pizza provides the canvas for Gen Z to pick and choose toppings. It's pizza customization and personalization. It's fresh. It's pricey. It provides experience.  

The fact is that Gen Z has very different money habits. Pizzerias are adapting to their preferences. Dairy brands must do the same. 

McKinsey research indicates that Gen Z is willing to spend on experiences that enrich their daily lives, though how they determine what enriches their lives, like spending on wellness and self-care, differs from previous generations. They are willing to spend on luxury items; however, how they define luxury differs from previous generations. They are also demanding brands adopt sustainable practices. 

“They’re looking beyond tangible products and actually trying to understand what is it that makes the company tick,” said Bo Finneman, partner at McKinsey. “What’s its mission? What’s its purpose? And what is it actually trying to build for us as a society?”

Gen Z missed out on a lot during the pandemic and they are not going to miss out on any more. They have a bucket list, and they’ve started working on it, even if that means moving back in with the parents. (I am living this right now!)

They are starting to make decisions about how and where they spend their money. Brands that attract them now have a chance to create brand affinities that will last a lifetime. They are also looking for new brands to support and, when possible, avoid the most popular brands at big box retailers. They love Aldi! 

That brings me to a new report--Top priorities for dairy executives in 2023—from McKinsey. Link to it HERE

Findings include that by focusing on growth, resilience and sustainability, dairy processors have an opportunity to leverage momentum and engage consumers and customers with a unified story. 
Here’s where it gets good. This is where it all comes back to pizza. 

Despite current challenges, including declining fluid-milk consumption, 45% of executives surveyed by McKinsey are prioritizing new growth opportunities by “entering new categories, markets and geographies.” Most executives expressed optimism about the future of dairy. 

One dairy executive said, “Despite the slowdown in the economy, dairy consumption has not gone down. We still have consumer loyalty. We are a staple; and on top of that, there are a lot of different, exciting forms of dairy products coming down the pipeline.”  

Another said, “We don’t have time to see where the customer is going to be; we need to jump in together and solve it.”

The pizza industry is doing it with their crusts, some being gluten-free and others cauliflower based. The same with toppings. And, they are trying all types of cheeses, but as of now, most are sticking with the REAL deal. Plant-based meats are faring better. Even plant-based pepperoni tastes yummy when it is topped with hot honey. (Hot honey was booming at Pizza Expo.) 

Remember with Gen Z, experience is a part of the equation. My friends at Dutch Farms get it with the company’s new The Corner Booth pizza brand. It’s being marketed as being made with the best sausage and pepperoni, the freshest vegetables and 100% REAL thick-cut cheese. Yes, packages sport the REAL seal. 

Gen Z appreciates authenticity. They want REAL!

Friday, March 24, 2023

The Forgotten Nutrient—Fiber—Presents Innovation Opportunities for Dairy Product Developers

Growth Summit 2023 was held this week in Las Vegas. It’s an annual event of what once was IRI, but now, after joining forces with The NPD Group, is Circana. “Identifying and Closing Consumer Benefit Gaps” was a session on Day 2 of the Growth Summit. Speakers used fluid milk as the example to show how Circana’s National Eating Trends’ in-home consumption data, when used in conjunction with Circana OmniMarket retail sales data, identifies gaps in consumer behavior, creating opportunities for product innovators. And for dairy, boosting protein and fiber contents presents a noteworthy innovation opportunity. 

Before I provide some of Circana’s insights, I must share this recent personal experience at my neighborhood Aldi. While picking up a few staples and browsing the AOS (If you don’t know what the acronym stands for in relation to Aldi, you are missing out on so much fun!), there was a 25-something bulked dude shopping who asked me if I thought the avocado he was holding would be ripe enough to make guacamole the next day. It was. I then complemented him on the three gallons of 2% milk in his cart and asked if that was all for him. His response, “I cannot get enough of this stuff. That’s about a gallon a day just for me.”

I kid you not. This dude was for real and I left Aldi with a big smile on my face. (OK, I was also a little flattered he asked for my opinion of the avocado.) 

Two days later I boarded a plane for the Growth Summit. When I left Vegas, I was also smiling. I only lost $10 on slots (I was up to $30, then blew it all.) But it was the session that showcased dairy, along with all the amazing dairy marketers in the room (Nice chatting with the DFA team. Wish I could have met more dairy folks.) that had me walking on cloud nine. 

John Crawford, vice president of client insights-dairy at Circana provided data that showed what we all know: Milk volume sales have been declining. But consumers have not abandoned beverages nor have they abandoned dairy. 

“There are growth pockets in dairy milk with successful claims,” he said. “Milk with protein-, no/low sugar- or lactose-free claims have all experienced growth the past five years. But those pockets are small.”


Indeed, value-added dairy milk is growing but it is not offsetting traditional volume declines. Value-added milk (and other dairy) is where the most innovation opportunities exist. 

Darren Seifer, executive director--food and beverage industry analyst at Circana, took the stage and added that beverage consumption increased this past year. The data showed that there were about nine billion more beverages consumed in 2022. The data also showed that like milk, bottled water is predominantly consumed at home. This suggests the need for more marketing around milk’s hydration properties. 

What was quite interesting is that data also showed that plant-based milks are more reliant on host foods. Only a third of plant-based milk is consumed as “a glass of milk,” whereas almost half (48%) of dairy milk is consumed as “a glass of milk.” This means we need to add more value to that milk so more consumers drink a glass or two a day, so that they reach for the gallon and pour a glass of milk instead of grabbing a bottle of water. 

Using Circana data, Seifer identified the benefit gaps for milk. 

“Forty percent of adults are seeking more protein in their diet, and 33% are seeking more fiber,” he said. “Ironically, most are getting enough protein already, but that is not the case with fiber.”

Fiber remains a nutrient of concern. It’s the forgotten nutrient. This presents an opportunity for dairy marketers--milk, yogurt and even ice cream—to boost fiber content and promote its presence along with the high-quality protein inherent to dairy milk (and missing in that plant-based stuff).

At the same time that consumers want more protein and fiber, they are trying to avoid sugar. This is another innovation opportunity, especially in the flavored milk sector. 

My friends over at Mattson Food Lab concur that there is a big focus on sugar reduction in 2023, by both formulators and consumers. Mattson Food reports:

“An evolving preference for less-sweet options is one outgrowth of the trend, the other a plethora of technology solutions that facilitate current sweetness levels with fewer grams of sugar. After decades of American brands adding sugar to everything, we’re now formulating without sugar, removing it from existing products and replacing it with fiber, the forgotten nutrient. The average American consumes only half of what the experts say is needed for good health. We expect to see far more fiber claims in the near future, driven by prebiotics, and the normalizing of talking about what has euphemistically been called regularity.”

This is supported by findings from the International Food information Council’s 2022 Food and Health Survey, which identified the trend of “Drinking Our Way to Wellness.” According to the survey’s findings, wellness will continue to be top-of-mind for many consumers, but it will increasingly come in liquid form, driven in large part by consumers looking for added benefits like energy, mental health and gut health support. 

In regards to gut health, IFIC reports that while many consumers are focusing on what foods can do for their minds, others are interested in what they can do for their guts. Probiotics have been steadily growing in popularity, with digestive/gut health being the third most commonly sought-after benefit among Americans. Don’t expect that interest to wane in the coming year, and expect to see them more and more beyond the yogurt section, as probiotics are increasingly being added to non-traditional foods like chocolate, ice cream, juices, sauces and even nutrition bars. 

Similar to consumers’ pursuit of energy benefits, beverages are also viewed as a delivery system for probiotics and prebiotics. According to IFIC’s 2022 Consumer Insights on Gut Health and Probiotics Survey, of those who try to consume probiotics, 25% say they commonly seek them out in wellness drinks. Similarly, among those who try to consume prebiotics, 23% seek them out in wellness drinks. 

Fiber, the forgotten nutrient, presents a great deal of opportunity for dairy foods innovation. 

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Dairy Foods Taste Great. Explore Opportunities with Unique Textures and Flavors that Pop.


Happy St. Patrick's Day! 

It’s been a week since Natural Product Expo West and I am still recovering, as well as digesting everything I learned. One thing for sure: dairy delivered at the show! That does not mean there’s not tons of opportunity for innovation and even improvements. But, all the dairy processors I talked to at the Expo said the same thing, and that was that attendees were genuinely excited to be sampling real dairy…because it delivers what most alt dairy products do not.  

In fact, on March 10 at the Expo, 84.51°, a part of The Kroger Co., in partnership with the Plant Based Foods Association, presented proprietary research that identified taste, texture and quality as unmet needs in plant-based meat and dairy. 

The research focused on the top 50% of spenders in plant-based meat, milk and cheese. Eighty-one consumers participated in 60-minute online conversations to discuss unmet needs in the categories. Participants were between 25 and 64 years old and 78% of them were female, as females were identified as more likely to be plant-based consumers and primary grocery shoppers.

The data showed that younger consumers do not want their plant-based foods to mimic animal-based products, while more mature consumers prefer products that are similar to the animal-based versions. All demographics want plant-based foods to be cleaner to help them live a healthier lifestyle.

Plant-based cheese was identified as a specific category with notable unmet needs. Seventy-three percent of the people participating in the research agreed with the statement, “I wish there was a better plant-based cheese alternative that tasted like regular cheese, melted well and didn’t have a grainy texture.”

To read a general review of trends at Expo West, link HERE

My friends over at the Mattson Food Lab said that “texture is a formulation hot button, with snacks leading the way, from minis to layers to 3D. And, flavor experiences are meant to intrigue and push new boundaries that connect the senses with the imagination.” All of this is possible with dairy foods innovations. 

It’s been said for some time that texture is one of the most underdeveloped sensory experiences in food and beverage. In dairy, this is especially true in desserts, ice cream and yogurt. It’s not enough to be creamy any more. Descriptors such as “airy,” “puffy,”  “chewy,” “soft” and “squishy” are being used to create points of differentiation.  

Manipulating textures in these dairy products has a lot to do with managing moisture and sugar content. Ingredient suppliers often talk in terms of “water binding” functionality. This is important for influencing the texture, mouthfeel and viscosity of the product. In general, the greater the water content, the more “fluid” the product. Viscosity increases as water content decreases or gets bound up by other ingredients. 

In dairy products, hydrocolloids—namely starches and gums, but also some fibers and proteins--are most often used to stabilize, thicken or gel the system. Hydrocolloids work in combination with carbohydrate, protein and fat components in the dairy system. Blends are common, as they work synergistically to achieve texture and stability goals with lower total addition levels. Thus hydrocolloid blends may reduce formulation costs. 

Link HERE to read an in-depth technical overview of “Managing Moisture in Dairy Foods,” which I wrote for the recent issue of Dairy Processing

Added challenges with managing moisture come into play when sugar is reduced or even eliminated, as sugar is a natural water binder. It also provides bulk in the form of carbohydrate solids. When sugar is gone, managing moisture in dairy foods is even more critical.

The folks at Mattson also said that “flavor experiences are meant to intrigue and push new boundaries that connect the senses with the imagination.” This may be achieved with the obvious—added flavors—but can also be manipulated with FMPs (flavors with modifying properties). These may include natural, high-intensity sweeteners, such as allulose, monkfruit and stevia, which are used at sub-sweet levels to modify the flavor profile of the food. Such FMPs can make flavors pop and taste brighter without any extra calories. 

And flavors that pop are trending in 2023. Unilever Food Solutions released its first Future Menu Trends report last week. It was developed in collaboration with more than 1,600 chefs in over 21 countries. One of the eight trends identified is an increase in contrasting flavors and textures that create multisensory experiences. Possible pairings may range from the combination of sweet and spicy to crunchy and chewy textures or even mixing hot and cold elements in a single item.

Scattered through this blog are noteworthy recent rollouts that provide multisensory experiences. Please gain some inspiration from them and get creative.

Crème Brulee Boba Milk Tea, for example, is the most recent variety of this canned dairy-based beverage from DaoHer Beverage. The light, yet creamy beverage is made with brewed black tea leaves, milk powder and creamer. It contains boba balls made from starch and konjac gum, instead of the traditional tapioca, in order to withstand the rigors and shelf life of an ambient canned beverage. The beverage made its debut last year in Brown Sugar, Classic and Matcha varieties. 

Boba is booming, as it delivers on texture and pop, Most boba literally pops with flavor when chewed by consumers. Yes, they are chewy, too. 
Amazing Ice Creams offers Tiger Boba (brown sugar) and Ube Boba ice creams. The company also has Matcha Mochi ice cream, where the mochi pieces provide that extra dimension of chewy texture. 

Wells Enterprises has been playing with the texture of ice cream for the past few years. The company recently rolled out Blue Bunny Soft, a three-variety line (Chocolate, Mint Chocolate Chip and Vanilla) of scoopable soft-serve ice cream. The concept builds on the Blue Bunny Twist Cones introduced in early 2022. To achieve the characteristic creamy mouthfeel of soft-serve ice cream, the company relies on a proprietary blend of emulsifiers, stabilizers and aeration.

Refrigerated dairy desserts present a great deal of opportunity for innovation with texture and flavor. 

Gü has added a trio of potted desserts inspired by the UK’s most-loved cocktails. Espresso Martini is layered with chocolate coffee “pearls,” coffee liqueur cream, coffee crème and crushed cocoa and coffee biscuit. Passionfruit Martini is made with popping candy, passionfruit and champagne compote, passionfruit curd, vanilla vodka cream and crushed crunchy biscuit. Strawberry Daiquiri is made with Jamaican rum and strawberries, layered with daiquiri compote, daiquiri cream, strawberry and lime curd and crushed red biscuit. The multi-layered desserts come in glass ramekins and are sold in packs of two.

Petit Pot is adding new concepts to its refrigerated dairy dessert business. There’s Original and Strawberry Cheesecake, and a Crème Brulee. These single-serve (3.5 ounces) desserts come in glass ramekins with foil seals and have multiple layers of ingredients that one can see through the package. The Strawberry Cheesecake is the most complex, with a bottom layer of strawberry compote followed by creamy, fluffy cheesecake layer and topped with a graham cracker crunch.

Dessert Factory introduced single-serve candy-inspired dairy desserts in the U.K. The company is licensing two candy bar brands and products--Daim and Toblerone--from Mondelez International to produce single-serve refrigerated cheesecake desserts. This comes two years after similar full-size cheesecakes were introduced in the freezer. The desserts come in packs of two 85-gram glass pots. They are more than one-third dairy, with cream, milk powder, concentrated butter and sweetened condensed skim milk the dominant ingredients.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Five Observations at Natural Products Expo West 2023 for Dairy Foods Manufacturers and Marketers


“It’s like a family reunion.” That’s how my colleague Monica Watrous with Food Business News described the vibe at this year’s Natural Products Expo West taking place in Anaheim, California, until tomorrow, Saturday, March 11, 2023. I agree. And it’s a family reunion where we are all on the same page in terms of formulating food for the better good of people and the planet. (OK, there’s a few outliers. They are in every family!)

Nestlé USA sponsored an educational session on Thursday titled “Eat Like Your Life Depends On It, Because It Does.” Registered Dietitian Elizabeth Ward addressed the nutritional needs through various life stages and emphasized that “as quality of diet declines, obesity increases.” With those in the 2- to 18-year range, “it is clearly a public health concern as these [trends in poor diet] tend to track into adulthood.”

She emphasized, “They don’t get enough dairy.” OPPORTUNITY CALLING!


“Teens are not equipped to think about their health in the long term. ‘We’ need to do it for them and give them the nutrients to help them out,” she said. OPPORTUNITY CALLING!

Registered Dietitian Jim White, said, “Sustainability is a high priority for younger consumers. And, ‘health is their wealth.’”  OPPORTUNITY CALLING!

Ward added that older adults (over 65 years of age), “They want you to take their money. They are very hungry for your innovation. Older adults need more protein.” OPPORTUNITY CALLING!

Doctors are recommending “food as medicine,” more than ever before, according to White. This, of course, is music to ears of registered dietitians who have long been encouraging their patients to change their eating habits rather than popping another pill. OPPORTUNITY CALLING!

“We need more products with fewer ingredients,” said White. “We need these food to be as close to ‘whole’ foods as possible.” OPPORTUNITY CALLING!
Doug Munk, senior director of innovation strategy at Nestlé USA, “Consumers are more mindful about what they eat and drink than ever before, be it seeking options that support their dietary needs, provide comfort, offer convenience or are made in a responsible and sustainable way.

With that said, here are my five key take-aways from this year’s Expo. 

1. The world does not need another plant-based cream cheese. I said this about high-protein, no-sugar ice cream about seven years ago when Halo Top first debuted. I was correct. I said this about plant-based chicken nuggets a year ago. I was correct. Repeat after me, “If my company is working on a plant-based cream cheese, we will table it and move on.” 

Why? Plant-based cream cheese is one of these easiest plant-based dairy products to produce. Dairy-based cream cheeses are a matrix of fat and gums. It’s pretty easy to swap that milkfat for a highly saturated vegetable-based fat and add all the other stuff. Protein is really not part of the recipe. If a plant-based cream cheese does not taste good, you have a bad R&D team, because it’s not that hard to do. That’s why there are way too many debuting at Expo West. And guess what? It’s highly unlikely that the American population is going to start eating more cream cheese if more brands roll out. (But there is some dairy excitement in this space that you will need to wait until next week when the product is featured as a Daily Dose of Dairy.) Again, please, repeat after me, “no more plant-based cream cheese innovation.”

2. Clean ingredients are paramount, along with simple ingredient statements. That’s what White said. And I agree. Consumers want to know what is in the products they are buying. While many exhibitors touted formulation highlights of their innovations, such as keto, paleo, low-to-no added sugars, plant-based and nutrient dense, if the ingredient statement is not clean, you have no chance of making it. Sorry to say. That’s because others are prioritizing clean label. And it makes a difference to consumers. 

Be mindful of allergens, added sugars and over processing. Today’s consumers know that eating clean is what keeps them feeling their best. Remember, “Health is the new wealth.”

3. Mission matters to today’s shoppers. Consumers are looking for a brand with a story that matters. Many are seeking out certifications, such as humanely raised, grass fed, USDA certified organic, etc. They are choosing brands for their sustainability investments and upcycling efforts. In fact, the number-one message from brands communicated at this year’s Expo West was how they support both people and the planet.

4. Optimal health…again, health is wealth, has become a personal formula for many consumers. It’s what works to keep their mental and physical health in check. Dietary supplements are making a comeback as many consumers are not getting what they want out of everyday foods. OPPORTUNITY CALLING!

Functional foods are booming, as these products fill in nutrient gaps. Many address digestive health, energy and cognitive support. These are the three biggest selling points of products at this year’s Expo. It’s all about foods that fuel to help one stay active, fend off stress and get a good night’s sleep. 

5. Dairy is rocking at this year’s Expo. Over the next few weeks, I will feature the new products that debuted at the show as a Daily Dose of Dairy. Some of the products showcased in today’s blog are line extensions and new flavors, such as Lifeway’s Guava Kefir. Others represent the messaging being communicated by dairy marketers at Expo. A number of these products have gone through packaging redesigns to better communicate their mission. They are providing full transparency about the power of their farming and their product. 

Organic Valley, for example, used Expo to launch new packaging with a bright, modern design that focuses on communicating its brand story and point of differentiation: Ethically sourced products from small family farms and the cooperative’s definition of what that means to consumers across the country. The new Organic Valley product packaging will roll out across the product portfolio in 2023 and continue into 2024. 

“As a farmer-owned cooperative founded in 1988, we believe it’s essential to evolve with our consumers, and that includes the product packaging and marketing we do to build and support a market for small organic family farms,” said Jaclyn Cardin, chief brand officer at Organic Valley. “Our new product packaging was specifically designed around the core values that make us unique and resonate with consumers. More importantly, people should know that every product purchase makes a huge difference in supporting and saving small family farms.” 

Organic Valley partnered with award-winning, Boulder-based, branding agency, Moxie Sozo, to create the new packaging. The design concept, affectionately called, “Nowstalgia,” features modern illustrations that connect an idealized past with the clean, contemporary present, and focuses on attributes that are important to both the brand and consumers. The logo has also been revised to fit the new designs, and many products will feature a QR code that shows consumers the positive impact from their purchase. The new design also showcases the key values this farmer-owned cooperative has always believed, like pasture-raised dairy and never using antibiotics, synthetic hormones, toxic pesticides or GMOs on their farms.

 “Organic Valley challenged us to develop a new packaging design and system that combines consumer trends with the brand’s unique mission to save, serve and safeguard small organic family farms,” said Derek Springston, chief creative officer at Moxie Sozo. “Keeping those priorities in mind and knowing 73% of consumers enjoy things that remind them of their past, we were excited that the final ‘Nowstalgia’ design really brought everything together. It captures the wholesomeness that comes from simpler times alongside the mindfulness and excitement of today. Who wouldn’t want the best of the past and the present?” 

Hope to see you at Expo, if I have not already. Great to visit with Carmine, Deb, Ivan, Janelle, Michelle and more! Maybe join me for yoga on Saturday morning, weather permitting? I was proudly first in line on Thursday’s sunrise yoga. Cheers!

                       VISIT INGREDION AT BOOTH 971 at EXPO WEST

Friday, March 3, 2023

Making Dairy Relevant to those that Strayed from the Category


On these days leading up to Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, Calif., and SXSW in Austin, Texas, I encourage dairy foods marketers to take a step back and look at what the rule-breaking, norm-defying exhibitors at these shows are doing to attract consumers. For starters, they are focusing in on Gen Z. 

Gen Z is poised to change the face of food, according to new research from The Center for Food Integrity (CFI). CFI conducted digital ethnography, quantitative research and immersive Gen Z experiences, for a 360-degree look at this unique segment and how to engage to earn trust.

“The findings equip the food industry with insights to engage Gen Z consumers, Gen Z farmers and ranchers and the Gen Z workforce,” says Roxi Beck, consumer engagement director at CFI, who led the Gen Z initiative. “The guide details engagement strategies agriculture organizations can use to attract and retain young members and future leaders. Additionally, it details how food companies, restaurants, retailers, agribusinesses and others involved in the business of food can attract and integrate this up-and-coming generation into today’s multigenerational workforce.” 

Born between the mid-to-late 1990s and the early 2010s, this emerging consumer segment has a distinct set of values, behaviors, fears and preferences, along with growing purchasing power. Accounting for 20.7% of U.S. consumers and nearly one-third of the global population, Gen Z’s economic power is the fastest growing across all generations and their income is predicted to increase five-fold to $33 trillion by 2030 and surpass Millennials’ incomes by 2031.

Gen Z is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation, too. According to Pew Research, Gen Z represents the leading edge of the country’s changing racial and ethnic makeup, with 52% non-Hispanic White, 25% Hispanic, 14% Black, 6% Asian and 5% a different race or two or more races. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2026, the majority of this generation will be non-White. (I wish the projections were the same for executives in dairy. Come on folks, let’s bring some color to next year’s Dairy Forum.)

Here are some recent innovations that speak to what matters to Gen Z. 

Cheddies cheese-based snack crackers are made from 100% fresh cheddar cheese. They are made with only seven ingredients and provide 6 grams of protein per serving. Unlike most cheese crackers on the market that use processed cheese powders, Cheddies uses its own proprietary cheddar cheese recipe, sourced fresh from regenerative farms. The result is a crunchy, savory cracker that satisfies all your cheesiest cravings.

Cheddies was founded by Texas-based brothers Francisco and Tomas Pergola who were looking for a healthy but delicious alternative to the highly processed cheese-based snacks they grew up eating. While still in college, they started their work to create a sustainably sourced cheese cracker with the savory flavor and crunch they loved, while also being kind to the planet. They knew making the best cheese cracker meant starting with the best cheese, so they partnered with Alexandre family farms-- one of the only regenerative dairy farms in the U.S.--to create the proprietary recipe that gives Cheddies its uniquely cheesy taste. 

“We’re on a mission to put real, fresh cheese back in cheese snacks,” said Cheddies’ CEO, Francisco Pergola. “That’s why we only use whole block, all-natural regenerative cheddar to make our delicious, better-for-you crackers. We believe Cheddies is the perfect cracker for the next generation of snackers looking for tasty, sustainable, healthy snacks which also put flavor first.” 

Here’s another. Alec’s Ice Cream is a category-disrupting ice cream brand with its regenerative-verified and USDA organic-certified products made from 100% A2 dairy. The brand also received this week the prestigious win from New Hope’s NEXTY Awards for “Best New Dessert” category and is a finalist in the “Best New Organic or Regenerative Certified Product” category. Check them out at Expo West.

This month the brand also gained noteworthy distribution and is now available nationwide at all 392 Sprouts Farmers Market locations and 166 Natural Grocers locations across the country. 
Founded in 2020 by Alec Jaffe, Alec’s Ice Cream is on a mission to create a better food system by going beyond organic to help reverse climate change. Through the universally loved treat, ice cream, Alec’s educates and inspires consumers—mainly Gen Z--to seek out high-quality foods that taste better, are better for the environment, support value-driven producers, and are better for you. 

The brand’s newest flavor is Peanut Butter Fudge Honeycomb. It was inspired by Jaffe’s favorite childhood candy bar, the Butterfinger. The new flavor features a peanut butter base, ribbons of fudge and chocolate-covered honeycomb toffee pieces. The goal of this flavor launch is to tap into a playful, nostalgic and beloved flavor to hook consumers onto the brand’s greater environmental mission. 
Jaffe cites a recent study that found customers are four-times more likely to purchase products from purpose-driven brands, proving that customers are looking for community and a shared “power of good” that purpose-driven brands provide. To read highlights from the study, link HERE

“I think there is a really meaningful shift taking place in how consumers think about and shop for their favorite foods,” says Jaffe. “More and more, we see people looking to support brands that are taking actionable steps toward a more sustainable future. At Alec’s, we are dedicated to providing consumers with the most delicious ice cream while upholding our core commitment to protecting and restoring the environment and using our product as an entryway to educating the consumer on the importance of sustainability.”

Gen Z is listening and speaking with their dollar. Gen Z thinks very differently about the products they buy, including food and beverages. 

As a parent of two Gen Z males, I can confirm they shop and eat differently. They would rather spend a few extra dollars—of their own money—for Chipotle, which they recognize as being fresh, authentic and planet friendly, then a fast-food burger or heaven forbid, Chick-fil-A. They prefer Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers. 

“They are driven by social causes, including environmental and social justice issues. This means they support brands that align with their values,” says Beck. “They value technology used to produce food, and view food as a form of self-expression and identity.”

This generation also likes immersive experiences. To that end, as part of the research project, CFI brought together Gen Z food online influencers and Gen Z farmer online influencers for a two-day tour around San Antonio, Texas, that explored beef production and nutrition. They explored the many questions regarding beef sustainability. The tour gave influencers access to experts including a cattle rancher, veterinarian, dietitian and chef. No question was left unanswered. A smaller-scale tour was also conducted in eastern Iowa.

“The participants experienced things most people simply don’t have access to, a backstage pass of sorts. Throughout the experience, we saw many ‘aha’ moments from the consumer and farmer participants,” says Beck. “We’ve conducted several influencer tours over the years. They are an incredible way to show full transparency, have authentic conversations, and truly build relationships, all important elements in earning trust.”

“In addition to the direct impact on participants, each influencer’s online content--blogs, photos and videos--were shared with more than one million loyal followers,” said Beck, “amplifying the many positive things happening on farms and in food production today.”

Tour videos featured on CFI’s (link HERE) consumer site featured comments including:

“I had no idea that there was this much technology. When I envisioned a farm, it wasn’t this. I think it’s extremely important to continue innovating.”

“We’ve been fed over and over again to be scared of the way our food is farmed and raised, and I just don’t think that I believe that anymore. I have a much more well-rounded idea of what farming is and have a lot more trust in the food system and in farming.”  

When it comes to specific eating habits, CFI’s Illuminate digital ethnography research revealed distinct trends including: 

  • Building a Better Relationship with Food: They believe intuitive and mindful eating will help them build a healthier relationship with food that is free of stress and guilt.
  • Balanced Nutrition: They try to optimize nutrition by developing a habit of eating a wide variety of foods, especially plant-based, rather than restricting their diet.
  • Sustainable Diets: They want to do what they can to reduce their carbon footprint by minimizing meat consumption and buying local ingredients.
CFI’s research regarding why consumers accept or reject technology in agriculture and food showed that when communicating about technology, like gene editing, primary messages should include key drivers of trust, including: food safety, sustainability, perceived benefits, naturalness of the technology and making information readily available and easy to understand.   

The research culminated in a communications guide, “Engaging Gen Z: The Consumer, The Farmer/Rancher, The Workforce,” that details CFI research and other Gen Z findings, along with specific strategies to engage each audience. You can download the guide HERE.

“Gen Z consumers are hiring food to do different jobs for them than previous generations. They are looking to food not only for sustenance. They want it to positively impact long-term health for the body and the mind, they want it to be produced sustainably for the future of our planet,” says Beck. “Be forthcoming with the role of technology in food production and how it directly relates to consumer goals. They see innovation as critical to solving global challenges. Sharing examples of your efforts and progress demonstrates your commitment to sustainability.”

For agriculture organizations looking to recruit and retain Gen Z farmers and ranchers, provide opportunities early and often so they are connected and understand that they can have an impact. Offer development and training opportunities to empower engagement outside of agriculture. And make sure other generations take into consideration the new perspective Gen Z brings that can help the industry advance.

When engaging the Gen Z workforce, showcase your company values, get them involved in initiatives that support company culture and community engagement, and demonstrate that you’re committed to taking steps to impact change.

“Because they want to speak up and be heard, give them a voice in the workplace,” says Beck. “It gives them a sense of belonging, which research shows improves longevity.”

Hope to see you in Anaheim!