NIQ’s Sherry Frey digs into Gen Z’s passion at Organic Produce Summit

Sherry Frey shares how producers and retailers can meet these young adults’ needs. Read this preview of her Organic Produce Summit keynote.

Shara Rutberg

June 4, 2024

4 Min Read
Sherry Frey digs into Gen Z’s passion at Organic Produce Summit

“Gen Z is different,” says Sherry Frey, vice president of total wellness, NielsenIQ. “They care more about health and wellness than previous generations.”

Formidable today, their market influence is growing. Their buying power is expected to surpass that of millennials by 2031. And they are the natural and organic products industry’s most aligned consumer, according to the Organic Trade Association. What do organic producers and buyers need to know about Gen Z? Frey’s Organic Produce Summit keynote speech, “Changing Consumer Impact on Organic Produce Opportunities,” will highlight some of the most important facets of this generation’s buying behavior, as well as the overall effects of shifting demographics, demands on organic produce and how the industry can identify new marketing opportunities.

Frey has helped elevate brands over two decades with market research, innovation and consulting expertise across fresh, CPG and wellness industries. We caught up with her for a keynote preview.

“Gen Z already spends more per capita than any other generation at the same age,” she says. “Over the next six years, their per capita expenditure will grow the fastest, but from a low base. When they reach age 25, their mean and median spending per capita in the U.S. will outpace prior generations. And by 2030, Gen Z will contribute more wealthy people to every region in the world—dispelling the often-asserted myth of Gen Z being the ‘most broke generation ever.’”

These shoppers are buying products that would normally appeal more to older consumers, Frey says. And they’re doing it everywhere. “They’re the purest ‘omni’ shopping generation to date, starting their shopping online but often finishing it in-store. In fact, they are some of the highest in-store shoppers!”

Another thing that makes Gen Z stand out from other generations is their regional, racial and ethnic diversity. “Almost half of the generation is nonwhite,” Frey says. “Their diversity also comes through in Gen Zers’ social and cultural values. Compared with millennials, 7.7% more Gen Zers identify with the LGBTQ community, and they are less likely to affiliate with established religions.”

Understanding this mighty group of shoppers and how they fit in with the changing habits of other demographics is key to capturing their dollars. “Consumers are changing rapidly,” Frey says. “While they have been affected by the dynamics of inflation the last few years, they continue to put a primary focus on their health. It’s never been more critical to be on the forefront of shifting consumer demands around organic.”

What are the most important changes you’ve been seeing (and forecasting) involving organic produce consumers?

As we are watching Gen Z shoppers enter the shopping landscape and their peak buying years, we are seeing they are increasingly strong organic shoppers. At the same time, GenY/millennials, who are now starting families, are also strong organic shoppers.

How do shoppers’ expanding views of wellness—from personal to environmental and social responsibility—play out in their produce choices? What opportunities might this expanding view present to the industry?

Gen Z is concerned about the climate and environmental justice, and they care about the entire supply chain: Recent NIQ research found 77% of Gen Z say they won’t buy from countries with poor environmental standards.

How is grocery inflation (and inflation in general) playing out?

Inflation really impacted consumer choices in all areas around “better for” but we saw the most dramatic pull back in late 2022 into 2023. Since the fall of 2023, we are continuing to stronger growth of “better for” products, including organic produce, which illustrates consumer demand is coming back. Food prices remain at the top of consumer concerns.

How can the organic produce industry leverage Gen Z’s general alignment with organic’s values and benefits?

Gen Z values authenticity: In recent NIQ research, we found they are more interested in authentic relationships with influencers and brands, with “being true to yourself” being the No. 1-ranked description of success for Gen Z globally. Belonging and self-esteem are two other top values.

What does the Organic Produce Summit audience need to know about changes in Gen X and baby boomer consumer beliefs and behaviors?

Boomers and Gen X consumers are leaning heavily into health. They are very concerned about their health, but they are shifting beyond just looking at specific health conditions and longevity and focusing more on overall health span versus just lifespan. Boomers in particular continue to change the grocery industry (as they have their entire lives) as they are living longer and continue to look for ways to be healthy.

Mark your calendars for Frey’s keynote at 10:30 a.m. PT Thursday, July 11, at the Organic Produce Summit in Monterey, California. Her address will follow keynotes from Nicholas Bertram, CEO of Flashfood, and a fireside chat with Robby Cruz of Target and Patrick Haines of UNFI. Click here to register.

This article originally appeared on Organic Produce Network, a New Hope Network sister website. Visit the site for information and education relevant to the organic produce industry.

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