ST. PAUL, Minn. – In order to know how to market dairy products, people in the dairy community need to know how consumers use the items.
    A consumer panel of people from Gen Z gave insight during the second annual Dairy Experience Forum July 17 in St. Paul, Minn. Gen Z is considered to be people born from 1996-2010.
    “You might ask what influence they can have if they don’t have much money,” said Lucas Lentsch, chief executive officer of Midwest Dairy. “The reality is, they influence purchasing decisions in this country far greater than any other generation in this country. They influence parents, other adults, relatives and grandparents. They’re incredibly on top of where the grocery dollars or food dollars are spent.”
    Jeff Fromm, president of Futurecast, moderated the panel, which included eight people ranging in age from 18-21.
    Topics they are passionate about include female equality, economic growth, health and wellness, and being environmentally friendly. In order to induce change in their lives or within these topics, they use social media to reach others. While Instagram and Twitter are the social media platforms of choice, many of them stated they will use whatever platform is necessary to get a message out.
    However, when it comes to their personal social media use, most of the panelists prefer to make their accounts private or delete them altogether. Many of them expressed using social media to make connections with people, but prefer face-to-face conversation.
    “I’ve seen some of the drawbacks of social media and having your life on the screen,” said one of the panelists. “You end up having to be a different person on social media which is only to share the highlights of your life. I wanted to have more in-depth personal relationships outside of that.”
    Fromm was not surprised by these results.
    “It feels like as a group you’re mostly more private and careful, which is consistent with research we’ve done in terms of how you use social [media],” he said.
    Many of the panelists want to be entrepreneurs, or they want to work for organized, environmentally conscious and ethically responsible employers who promote growth, excellence and will invest in them as a person. Where they work and what they do matters to them.
    For information about brands, the panelists said they go to the brands’ websites and use social media. Friends and people they follow on social media influence their choices.
    “That’s where YouTube becomes the biggest leveraging power in branding – watching people use [a certain product] day in and day out for years at a time as they morph as a person,” one panelist said.
    If a controversial issue came up about a brand, most panelists said they would stop using that brand indefinitely or until they could find evidence that showed the issue was not true.
    When it comes to dairy products, the panelists were on each end of the spectrum. A few rarely eat dairy while others eat several servings every day. Some do not like drinking milk and prefer the taste of milk alternatives. One said she believes milk alternatives are healthier than milk. Others like drinking milk or use it in cooking. One drinks Fairlife milk and uses dairy as a way to stay on his health and fitness journey.
    “Almond milk is a little too close to water, and I would rather just drink water,” the panelist said.
    Convenience of food is important to all the panelists. All the panelists snack heavily rather than having three traditional meals a day, partly because their work schedule does not allow for time to sit down for an early morning or mid-day meal.
Three panelists said over 50% of their food comes from restaurants and convenience stores rather than a grocery store. Many also rely on mobile or online ordering to pick up food.
    “Food serves as a function for me and is heavily based on convenience,” one panelist said. “Dairy plays a crucial role in my diet. It’s so often more convenient to eat dairy products that are higher in nutrient content than other sources.”
    While a few environmentally conscious panelists are very aware of the source of their food, others said they only focus on taste or other factors.
    “If it fills me up, tastes good and I’m reasonably sure about the quality, then I really don’t focus on the label – whether it’s organic, not organic or whatever,” a panelist said.
     Following the panel, forum attendees split up into groups to talk about what they heard. Many of the comments revolved around making dairy products more convenient to people on-the-go and more attractive packaging that shows the health benefits of dairy.
    People also mentioned how dairy farmers and others in the dairy community need to be conscious of milk’s journey even after it leaves the farm because people want to know more about their food.
    “Transparency, trust in the food chain and trust in a brand is a handshake of trust as a consumer,” Lentsch said. “There was an incredible moment that Gen Z panel provided – they want to be loyal to a brand, when a brand or trust breaks down in the system, they want leaders to be accountable. They are very thoughtful of the consequences of their purchasing decisions. They want to make sure they’re rewarding the right kind of behavior to protect the planet, to serve the people of our planet and to have a sustainable, nutritious food supply.”