Student panelists from Western Michigan University's food marketing program discussed the future of the grocery industry during Grocery Industry Week events.
Generations collided on Nov. 2 as Progressive Grocer’s Grocery Industry Week kicked off in Orlando, Fla. Ahead of the GenNext Awards luncheon, a morning of educational programming began with a panel discussion from Gen Z college students at Western Michigan University’s food marketing program about what they value most from both prospective employers and the grocery stores they shop in.
The discussion was led by Dr. Russell J. Zwanka, director of the food marketing program and associate professor at Western Michigan University, who encouraged audience members to ask questions in an effort to better understand members of Gen Z. Student panelists Abbey Herrmann, Katelyn Wandel and Mary Raclawski talked about everything from internships and future job prospects to the importance of TikTok for product discovery and an unwavering desire for convenience when grocery shopping.
When it comes to the future of work, the panelists were unanimous in wanting a future employer that offers both a great cultural fit and the flexibility to work both remotely and in-person. Herrmann admitted that while salary obviously matters, culture is indeed the most important piece of the puzzle.
“I want to enjoy going to work,” Herrmann explained. “I don’t want to dread sitting at a desk and being around people that I don’t necessarily enjoy being around. So culture is so important.”
For Wandel, growth and mentorship opportunities are things she mentioned the younger generation values when looking at possible employment opportunities. Raclawski added that companies with training and development programs to help new recruits figure out their next steps are very attractive to students just entering the workforce.
Each panelist also agreed that while Gen Z is often known for a desire to work from home and never step foot into an office, they would look for a company that can offer a hybrid work schedule. “I feel like you get all the perks of an in-person culture and meeting with people face to face, but you also have that flexibility to stay home and really power through and be productive,” Wandel said.
As for Gen Z’s wants and needs in the food retail space, Herrmann said she still prefers going to brick-and-mortar locations and having a great, personalized experience. Raclawski further explained that while delivery and pickup options offer convenience, she isn’t fully on board with other people picking out her produce and meat selections. Another concern for Hermann with those options is the high delivery fees, which can be cumbersome for college students on a budget.
When choosing where they shop, convenience, value, location and environmental sustainability were among the reasons the panelists chose specific grocers. Each panelist also explained that they do their shopping at multiple stores each week, often for different reasons.
TikTok was a hot topic during the conversation, both for its power to help retailers reach consumers on new and creative touchpoints, and also for being a space for meal inspiration. As an avid Trader Joe’s shopper, Wandel said she checks the social media platform for ideas on new recipes and products to purchase.
“Something I’ve come into the routine of doing is going on TikTok and finding easy, frozen, convenient dinner recipes from Trader Joe’s. Then they tell me to go pick up this bag of pasta, some spinach and some chicken sausage, and it’s a great meal,” Wandel said. “Meal planning, but doing it in a custom, fun, digital way, is something I think is definitely going to transform the shopping experience and the lead-up time to it.”
Grocery Industry Week continues through Friday, Nov. 4.