The consumer paradox
Our diets are in flux. In contrast to the older generation, younger consumers seek pleasure, joie de vivre and sustainability, says market researcher Robert Kecskes. These desires come with some contradictions.

Mr. Kecskes, what changes are you seeing in consumers’ eating habits?

There are clear differences in how people eat. Take the iBrains generation, generation Z, born between 1997 and 2011. Increasingly, they are embracing a planetary health lifestyle, an exciting, sensual, visionary approach that aims to avoid further depleting the planet’s resources. A planetary health diet means protecting human health and the health of the planet plays a major role in what you eat. However, the planetary health diet is not guided by a logic of renunciation, but of enrichment. For these young people, technologies, new forms of communication, joie de vivre, enjoyment and thrills all matter. They are less interested in the way that the baby boomers, the older generation, approached these issues. They see Germany’s Reformhaus health food stores as a bit of a boring problem-solving approach rooted in the past.

... and how can you unite sensuality and sustainability when people are buying strawberries grown in Egypt in the winter?

Ah, strawberries from Egypt in winter, people ask me about this a lot. But the interesting thing is that no one was talking about this a decade ago. No indeed! The decisive factor is time for any development. These days, people who buy strawberries from Egypt in winter, or who call themselves a ‘classic meat eater,’ are expected to be accountable, which was not the case ten years ago. That clearly shows how the trend is developing. What we are seeing now is a poetic revolution. Young people are uniting hedonism with a sense of responsibility for planet Earth, which distinguishes them from Generation X, for example, when they were the same age as the iBrains are now. For them, hedonism was simply all about an all-encompassing culture of fun.

“The question is not whether to drink milk, what we should be asking is how it was produced.”

– Robert Kecskes, market researcher

What does all this mean for milk and dairy products?

Milk is a natural product and it is still important, even for young people. The question is not whether we should be drinking milk at all, what we should be asking is how it was produced. Consumers are paying much more attention to animal welfare, the carbon footprint and fair dealings with producers. That also applies to cheese and other dairy products.

How important are plant-based alternatives?

Many iBrains see plant-based substitutes as an alternative to milk. Older people are less interested. But plant-based products will become part of the mainstream, though that doesn’t mean people will turn away from milk completely. But the balance between animal and plant proteins will change.

How should food producers respond to these changes?

First of all, young people are not asking manufacturers to react, they want them to act and become planetary health brands. The products and services young people are excited about appeal to their senses, excite them, communicate values, act, intervene and convey a vision of a better world in future. They do not speak to the consumer, but to people. For young people, these are the brands of a poetic revolution. They are brands in a world of meaning, leaving behind the logic of growth of the old world of things.