As Millennials are getting older, the Generation Z population is growing, and growing fast.

According to MNI Targeted Media, Gen Zers — ages 19 and under — influence the way their parents spend more than Millennials did. That includes family food choices and items purchased for them. They’re willing to challenge their parents, questioning things like how much they’re going to pay for something, trying to evoke their own price sensitivity. Gen Zers have high expectations. With that said, if marketers focus on Gen Zers over Millennials, using them as the barometer, they’re likely to please other generations, as well.

As the generation continues to expand rapidly, marketers need to understand them. Dairy processors are no exception.

To that end, Rosemont, Ill.-based Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), has been pivoting its marketing and communications activations to not only create relevancy with younger audiences, but to show up in the right places.

“To compete in today’s environment, dairy needs to reassert its place in young people’s lives in a way that is in the social media and entertainment spaces they love and that speak their language,” said Anne Warden, vice president of strategic integration at DMI. “This is our way of reaching consumers who can have the biggest return on investment for dairy.”

Gen Z constitutes about 20% of the US population, Warden said, adding that they have the spending power of more than $100 billion.

“It won’t be long before they’re the ones in the grocery store making decisions for their families, if they aren’t already,” she said. “Until then, they have a lot of influence on their Gen X and Baby Boomer parents when it comes to the food and products brought into the home.”

Gen Z is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation to date, which makes it open and more accepting of differences, Warden said.

“For most, inclusivity and fairness are key values and drive much of their purpose,” she said. “They also are passionate about their causes, such as the environment and animal care, and they expect brands and industries to feel the same way.”

Warden said dairy’s sustainability efforts are critical to this generation, which expects producers to continue making progress to demonstrate dairy farming’s environmental efforts.

“Gen Z will purchase other products and food alternatives if they believe brands do not support their values,” she said. “In fact, two-thirds of Gen Z already has changed behaviors and purchases because of perceived climate issues.”



The DMI-managed dairy checkoff launched “Reset Yourself with Dairy” this past October as a new wave of its Undeniably Dairy campaign. Its goal is to create deeper connections between Gen Z and dairy and give Gen Zers new occasions to reach for dairy.

Reset Yourself with Dairy reflects the integration of checkoff-supported science, partnerships and product innovation to secure the next generation of dairy consumers and ensure impact throughout their lifetimes.

“The campaign is using a variety of media channels and marketing strategies, including gaming, social media influencers, retail and digital content to engage with Gen Z,” Warden said. “It centers on four aspects of dairy’s wellness benefits that checkoff-led consumer research found resonates and drives purchase decisions with Gen Z (ages 10 to 23).”

These territories, Warden said, are immunity, calming, energy and digestive health, and can meet this generation’s changing perceptions and behaviors for what they believe foods and beverages should deliver.

The content is available on TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat, and the checkoff will work with social media influencers who Gen Z finds to be authentic, Warden said. There’s also continued outreach to the gaming community, where the checkoff will work with Twitch, which has about 15 million users daily.

“The effort also includes a partnership with Kroger Digital and Instacart for content to appear in their retail apps and mobile sites,” she added. “Finally, the campaign will have activations on about 400 college campuses, including on TV screens in recreation centers and cafeterias.”


Category trends

The industry has seen milk consumption decrease among youth over the past 10 years, and the sharpest declines happen as they get older and have more access to different beverage innovations and varieties, Warden said.

“However, the majority of Gen Z still enjoys dairy products, and trusts the dairy industry on par or above other sectors,” she said. “Our research shows Gen Z overall isn’t anti-dairy, but they want to be armed with the right information that shows dairy’s unique offerings can fit their changing needs and is produced in a way they can trust and feel good about.”

DMI is working to show Gen Zers that dairy can deliver benefits they are seeking but may not be aware of.

Another aspect of DMI’s research addressed Gen Z’s environmental views.

“We learned they think about the environment when they purchase a product, but they’re mostly looking for reassurance that the company or industry is doing something that is good for the planet,” Warden said. “We have many tangible examples of farmers doing amazing things to protect and enhance the planet, plus their commitment to do more. Caring for the environment is part of Gen Z’s personal brand and they wear their purpose on their sleeves, so we must ensure they feel proud of the dairy they are consuming.”

According to Edwardsville, Ill.-based Prairie Farms Dairy Inc., processors are seeing more and more consumers in general concerned with dairy’s environmental footprint and are experimenting with more category choices than ever before.

“During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, dairy product sales exploded and continue to be strong for most categories,” said Darin Copeland, public relations manager at Prairie Farms. “Analysts are predicting a strong year for dairy in 2022 as retail business is expected to remain healthy and restaurant visits pick up steam.”

Regarding the fluid milk category, Copeland said they have seen a lot of trends come and go over the years.

“Plant- and nut-based beverages provide additional options for consumers, but few of them can match the value and nutrition that real dairy milk provides,” he said.


A path forward

Warden said the big thing the dairy community can recognize is, sure, Gen Z is redefining wellness trends, but dairy has unique opportunities to win in this space.

“It’s an opportunity to reimagine milk in a way that is highly relevant to this generation and sets dairy apart from other options, while remaining committed to strong nutrition science,” she said. “Dairy’s ‘13 essential nutrients’ message alone won’t resonate with Gen Z. Instead, they want balance, and they see physical, mental and emotional health as interlinked and equally weighted in importance.”

Some of the best opportunities for dairy to meet these needs is by promoting its role in immunity, calming, energy and digestive health in an authentic and compelling way.

Dairy checkoff-led research into understanding more about Gen Z’s relationship to dairy resulted in the following findings, which will lead to new ways DMI will communicate dairy’s many benefits to this demographic:

• Milk properties help support mental, physical health: Gen Z consumers saw fluid milk as something that helps them feel their best due to its refreshing, cold taste, as well as health properties (e.g. protein and calcium).

• Dairy can elevate flavors; cheese is a favorite: Taste is extremely important to Gen Z consumers, and dairy ingredients positively contribute to a meal’s taste appeal.

• Yogurt contributes to healthy living: Many Gen Z consumers saw yogurt as a product that enables a healthy lifestyle, driven by its nutrients and range of health benefits (e.g., protein, fiber and probiotics).

• Yogurt extends into indulgence: Gen Z consumers saw yogurt as the healthy version of a dessert, helping them feel less guilty about their choices.

Processors will continue to innovate in packaging, flavor profiles and snacking options to appeal to all consumers.

To the point, Copeland said Prairie Farms will continue to focus on packaging convenience, flavors and snacking.

“I suspect other major processors will be doing the same,” he added. “Lactose-free and shelf-stable ultra-pasteurized milk options are becoming an important part of the growth equation for the fluid milk category, and we also know that consumers have a love affair with artisan cheeses, so that will be a focus for processors as well.”


Product innovation at Prairie Farms

Prairie Farms is always looking to stay on top of current consumer trends.

“We are consistently making investments in our plants and people that enable us to make the dairy products that consumers tell us they want to buy,” said Darin Copeland, public relations manager at Prairie Farms. “We’re lucky to have a wide demographic of people that consume our products. Our dairy products are coveted and provide excellent value, versatility and nutrition.”

The most recent examples of product innovation at Prairie Farms include its 5-oz flavored cottage cheese cups, 3.5-oz spreadable cream cheese cups and premium small-batch ice cream pints.

Consumer focus groups show the snacking category continues to grow with Americans, so these innovations were developed with snacking in mind, Copeland said.

“The award-winning cottage cheese cups are packed with protein and come in a variety of flavors that are sized perfectly for personalized snacking,” he said. “The cream cheese spreads are made with award-winning Neufchâtel cheese and offer personalized snacking and great flavor varieties, ranging from sweet to savory.”

Copeland said the premium small-batch ice cream pints are made with simple ingredients and offered in a variety of unique flavors that appeal to consumer desires for indulgence.

“All of these products were developed in reaction to consumer preferences for products that offer unique flavors, quality, snackability and value,” he said. “New products are always being researched and developed here at Prairie Farms. Stay tuned.”