Flexible Packaging in the Hands of Gen Z: Meeting New Consumer Demands

By Todd Meussling, Senior Manager, Fresh-Lock Market Development

Generation Z currently comprises 27 percent of the U.S. population (Business Insider). That’s a huge figure. This generation, born from 1997 onward, has grown up with the internet of things. They’re great multi-taskers, tech-savvy and forward-thinking. This is the first generation to have experienced social media early in their lives, with unprecedented access to computers, cell phones and the like at a young age.

What does this mean for packaging? Brands looking to get their products in the hands of these influential consumers must reevaluate their operations, particularly when it comes to packaging, marketing and transparency.

Generation Z, defined as anyone born from 1997 onward, is eco-conscious, willing to pay more for sustainable products and brands.

“How Could You Leave Us with This Mess?”

According to a report by First Insight, 73 percent of Gen Zers are willing to pay more for sustainable products. This statistic highlights just how much this generation prioritizes sustainability.

I’ve witnessed this with my own children. I have two kids born in 1996. They’re angry about the state of the world when it comes to sustainability. They’re looking at the waste and carbon footprints created by previous generations and asking, “How could you leave us with this mess?” They, along with many others in their generation, expect brands to demonstrate that they are doing something about sustainability, and those customers will spend their dollars accordingly.

Introducing New Packaging Formats

Gen Zers have seen rapid changes in their lifetime, making them quick to adapt to and accept new technologies. This adds up to an ideal target for introducing newer packaging formats, like recyclable flexible pouches.  A great example of innovative packaging design is Kellogg Company’s Bear Naked® granola pouch. The pouch, which is fully recyclable and requires less energy and materials to produce than rigid packaging, was a collaborative effort between five companies that were aligned on the package development. The challenge was to strike a balance between sustainability and consumer functionality. Gen Zers, while eco-conscious, seek options that are easy to use in their fast-paced lives. As a brand, you must achieve sustainability without sacrificing package functionality.

Brands that focus on new solutions that align with consumer values will see a growth in trust, so long as they are honest about their practices.

Prove Your Practices

The Bear Naked® granola pouch from Kellogg Company is a terrific example of how brands can introduce new, sustainable packaging options to younger generations.

In the past, many brands wanted to appear as though they had the best product or were the best at what they did. In messaging and billboarding, the key to success was flashy promotions and big promises. Promotional branding and couponing may not be as effective with Gen Z compared to other groups.

To reach Gen Z, you’ll need to back up your claims. For example, if you claim your new flexible pouch is earth friendly, you should have evidence to prove it. And, that information should be available to consumers. Gen Zers can quickly discover falsehoods through research in the digital world, and once they do, it’s incredibly difficult to regain their trust.

When promoting sustainability initiatives, brands should be able to spell out their efforts and show consumers exactly how and when they are going achieve them. Looking again at the Bear Naked pouch, those seeking information about the package can easily see who was involved, what materials were used, and specifically how it supports the circular economy. If you are following honest, sustainable practices, let consumers know it, and don’t be afraid to educate them and ask for their support to help your sustainable efforts succeed.

A Look Behind the Curtain

When considering Gen Z, I can’t help but think of the scene in “The Wizard of Oz” where Toto reveals the man behind the Great and Powerful Oz. The wizard’s response to being exposed was, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.” That will not be an option for Gen Zers.

Gen Z is forcing brands to answer some tough, valid questions that deserve truthful answers: “Why should I stay with you?” “What are you doing for me and my future?”

Gen Z consumers want to see behind the curtain and will support brands who can show that their sustainability claims have substance. Companies that can answer these questions honestly can garner loyalty, even if their products cost a little more than competitors.

Building Consumer Loyalty

Brand awareness will always be important, but it may not hold the same weight with buyers from the mid-90’s. Now is the time to build consumer loyalty. By adopting new sustainable technologies in flexible packaging and making sure that your operations are aligned with your messaging, consumers like Gen Zers will find value in what you offer and keep coming back.