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A Cheese For All Ages

How to Leverage Generational Preferences in Your Product Development

Cheese is a must-have food for most American consumers. In fact, more than 95 percent of U.S. households purchase some form of the dairy product, per IRI. The Chicago-based market research firm also found that deli/dairy cheese sales from January 2018 to January 2019 exceeded $18 billion—the sector’s third consecutive year of growth.

Americans’ love of cheese spans generations, but each demographic makes buying decisions based on unique psychographic preferences. Product developers, research and development (R&D) chefs, and operators should keep the following considerations in mind to deliver cheese products, packaging, and marketing messages that will resonate with each of the consumer groups they’re targeting. 

Gen Z

Mintel defines this generation as currently being 12 to 24 years old. As the most culturally diverse generation in American history, it’s no surprise that they are driving many ethnic food trends. The flavors of Southeast Asia, the Mediterranean, Middle East and Korea are especially appealing to them, according to What’s in Store 2019, a trends report produced by the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association (IDDBA).

This generation also loves to snack: Mintel’s Snacking in Foodservice – US – January 2019 report found that 94 percent of Gen Z consumers purchased made-to-order snacks in Q4 2018, in fact. To entice this demographic, product developers may want to work with grocery store department managers to develop snack cheeses or snack packs combining cheese and produce or grains that can be sold throughout the store. According to IDDBA, Gen Z consumers are especially likely to be interested in products featuring only organic ingredients, given that organic products typically comprise more than one-third of their shopping baskets. 

Other snack cheese opportunities that would appeal to this demographic include cube snack packs or a specially made cheese dip that can accompany crackers or pretzels. 

Millennials

This long-sought-after demographic, now 25 to 42 years old (per Mintel), is still a force to be reckoned with from a product manufacturing and marketing perspective, as Pew Research projected they would outnumber Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation in 2019. 

The clean label movement is often credited to Millennials and their interest in transparency, health and freshness. IDDBA notes that six in 10 Millennials typically look at a product label or packaging before buying—and nearly half (48 percent) are willing to pay more for healthy foods. 

Millennials also spend 55 fewer minutes than Gen X preparing their food and cleaning up after meals, IDDBA finds—and have indicated that they would rather purchase prepared foods. What’s more, they would like retailers to provide more information about flavor profiles and pairing opportunities, according to Mintel.

Given these findings, product developers and R&D chefs should create more blended-cheese offerings (with recipes on the packaging) that busy Millennials can use to make specific dishes quickly. If recipes on the packaging aren’t feasible, consider including healthy snacking pairing suggestions (as in, which fruit types pair best with the particular cheese type) instead.

Gen X

Members of Generation X (defined by Mintel as those age 43 to 54 years old) demonstrate the highest brand loyalty, with 48 percent being described as “passionate” about their favorite grocery brands. Yet IDDBA reported that they also are adventurous, with 60 percent interested in new items. 

Interestingly, Gen X consumers also stand out for their loyalty to feta and goat cheese as salad toppings and blue cheese salad dressing, according to Technomic. Using digital or mobile coupons to promote these cheeses and other new items is a sound Gen X targeting strategy, as they are most likely (70 percent) to redeem these types of coupons, IDDBA reports.

Baby Boomers

Baby boomers remain a formidable force, accounting for 28 percent of the population, according to IDDBA research. Having earned their wealth during the economic expansion of the 1970s and ’80s, these 55 to 73 year olds (as defined by Mintel) have money to spend. 

IDDBA notes that boomers want to feel young and recognize the role of a healthy diet. Low-fat and high-fiber snacks are especially appealing to this group, Mintel says. To capture their attention, call out these characteristics (if appropriate) on product packaging. Because boomers tend to believe a meal isn’t a meal without a protein, it’s also worth noting if a cheese product is a good source of protein. 

Given their focus on healthy choices and typically smaller appetites, boomers are drawn to half-portion sizes. Portion-controlled (4-ounce) options for snacking cheeses of various varieties and flavors could coax sales from this demographic.

The Silent Generation

IDDBA research shows that consumers age 74 and up have the highest per-person spend on monthly groceries. At the same time, members of this generation love a good deal—especially coupons, with nine out of 10 saying they use coupons regularly. 

Because this generation tends to be less tech-savvy, manufacturers should offer coupons in print form, as well as digitally. They also should be mindful of potentially strained eyesight among this demographic and develop signs, packaging and promotional materials with legible typefaces that are easy to read.

Cross-Generational Marketing 101

Given these nuances, product developers, R&D chefs and operators may enjoy the highest profitability by creating offerings that appeal to the sensibilities of multiple generations. For example, smaller snack packs are likely to resonate with Gen Z snackers, Millennial parents and boomers seeking protein-rich meal replacements. Knowing more about the psychographic variances within these demographics can help you better market to—and earn the business of—the consumers you’re targeting.