Repping Rice at Fancy Food and Selling to Generation Anxiety

Gen-Z-Anxiety-graphic, man wearing all gray holding his head in his hands with ink blots swirling around
Gauging a new path to purchase for the next generation
Jul 05, 2024
NEW YORK, NY – Tens of thousands of food industry professionals gathered here for the 68th Summer Fancy Food Show that was bigger and better than ever.  More than 2,300 exhibitors from 56 countries spread out across more than 330,000 square feet of the Jacob Javitz Center to showcase the latest in food, drink, condiments, and more.

U.S.-grown rice was featured as an ingredient in many award-winning gluten-free products from all around the country, including: croutons and stuffing from Vermont’s Olivia’s Croutons; indulgent cookies from Fancypants Baking Co. of Massachusetts; pizza, cookies, brownies, and rolled pie crust from Vermont’s Hillside Lane Farms; and stroopwafels and pie crust from Dutch Waffle Company in Indiana.

Unfortunately, the table rice on display was dominated by India, and with the Modi government likely paying for the more than 50 booths, it’s no wonder.  Smaller delegations from Japan, Korea, and Thailand were on hand, as was Captain Danny, a new Taiwanese company making “rice popcorn” in more than 40 flavors, which was tasty despite not being made with U.S. rice.

In addition to perusing new and returning products and meeting with fledging startups and CPG giants, attendees also take in educational programing, and event organizers Specialty Foods Association (SFA) offered great (specialty) food for thought.

“Understanding the New Path to Purchase” with Mike Kostyo and Maeve Webster of Menu Matters started to pull the curtain back on purchasing decisions, particularly for Generation Z that grows in purchasing power every day.

Say what you will about generations, but growing up Z is no picnic.  The first fully digital native generation, they have never not known the internet and the information overload associated with it.  Add to that the performative nature of social media and you have a generation drowning in data and peer pressure.

According to Kostyo, 86 percent of Gen Z experiences some sort of anxiety, and 48 percent feel anxious all the time!  This manifests itself in decision fatigue and menu anxiety – real things that are changing the way these young consumers are interacting with food.

Webster pointed out, with concern, that Gen Z is the first generation of Americans ever to attribute negative emotions to food.  Images of people laughing and having a good time around a meal are resonant for most of us, but more often than not causing a cognitive dissonance for young consumers.

It is apparent that helping Gen Z navigate food choices is going to look different from what food companies are doing for their parents and grandparents.  While the industry studies these consumers and makes adjustments, Kostyo and Webster offered leaning into the emotional realities is worth doing.

“Stress the word ‘crave or craving’,” Kostyo said.  “It’s their top driver for unplanned food purchases.  Also, 34 percent of consumers are turned off by too much packaging, and 31 percent are turned off by a product not offering enough information or backstory on the product or company.”

If that last one sounds like a contradiction when it comes to information overload, it is.  Give them information, but not too much.  But it better not be too little.  Easy peazy.

All the companies mentioned in this article will appear on an upcoming episode of The Rice Stuff podcast.  USA Rice will continue analyzing ways to reach Gen Z and other consumers with effective marketing for U.S.-grown rice and present findings here and at the USA Rice Outlook Conference, December 8-10, in Little Rock, Arkansas.