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    Up and Coming

    Rethink your role in the digital environment for relevance with generations to come.

    Thanks to the influx of mobile devices and constant online access, the intersection of food culture and digital culture is ?Digital Food Life,? which is also the name of a new syndicated study from The Hartman Group, now available through Produce Marketing Association (PMA).

    The smartphone plays a starring role in people?s digital food lives. These devices place a bottomless well of information at shoppers? fingertips, covering everything from prices to ingredients to health and food science to peer networks and expert opinion to menus to location and availability of food and food services. Among smartphone users surveyed in the study, 81 percent say they believe that in the past 10 years, technology has genuinely improved how well they eat. More specifically, smartphone users are twice as likely as nonusers to believe that digital technology has led to significant improvements in:

    • ? The quality of their eating, meaning how well they eat
    • ? Their ability to learn about and discover flavors, ingredients and cuisines
    • ? Their ability to share knowledge and opinions about food
    • ? How they go about getting something to eat, including planning for shopping, keeping track of what to shop for, and deciding where to shop or eat
    • ? Being able to find places to shop or eat, including locating places and navigating to them

    Additionally, the study finds that a surprising number of consumers rely on digital technologies to interact directly with food providers. Eighteen percent of smartphone users depend on digital services to order food to go from a local restaurant, and 13 percent have recently used an online service to sample unique snacks from niche market providers.

    Generation Z, the group of people born after the Millennial generation, are reputed to move among different technologies as effortlessly as a multilingual person can switch among languages in a single conversation. Given their access to technology and so much information, these ?digital natives? have well-formed opinions about seemingly everything, and as a result, their parents give credence to these opinions.

    According to CommonSenseMedia.org, 75 percent of all children today have access to smart devices at home, and more use mobile devices than have never used them. Imagine what digital food life will look like in 10 to 20 years ? or even just five years from now ? as Gen Z matures and technology?s influence on consumers? lives continues to build.

    No wonder this generation wields unprecedented power in the American household, influencing almost all purchase decisions, including groceries. Understanding the digital culture these kids are growing up in can help retailers reach multiple generations of shoppers now and lay groundwork for the future.

    Cultural Shift

    Digital culture is more than social media, apps, banners or Google; it?s everything we think, say or do that?s in some way related to technology. Today, shoppers who interact with technology operate in this digital culture and are greatly influencing the broader food culture.

    According to Bellevue, Wash.-based Hartman, traditional business models are fading. Instead, emerging from a technology-driven world is a ?participatory culture? revolving almost completely around consumers, their digital activities, their desires, and how they?d like their world to look and work. Today, it?s less about what shoppers want or need, and more about what they?re doing.

    All of this digital activity is disrupting traditional relationships between companies and consumers, as well as significantly affecting the food marketplace. The Hartman study finds that 70 percent of consumers use digital resources at least weekly to explore the food landscape. This new digital discovery and sharing of food are restructuring ?shopping prep,? changing the way consumers think about menu planning.

    Hartman?s study explains the following digital disruptions affecting the marketplace:

    Direct to consumer: Consumers are increasingly bypassing retailers and purchasing foods directly from suppliers and hyperlocal and small niche players.

    Digital media: Consumers are turning to each other for diverse and dynamic food ideas and information, elevating shoppers to ?expert? status.

    ?Disruptive? food companies: New services and products are emerging to align with the cultural shifts in how consumers eat, shop and live.

    Speaking the Same Language

    Grocery retailers can discover, create and share information with consumers in this diverse and dynamic digital food life. Recognize that digital food life is a reality not just for adult demographics, but also all demographics, making connections with Gen Z just as important as connections with their parents or other adult decision-makers in their lives. Understanding this new family environment and the culture shaping young generations is the first step to capturing their powerful influence today and remaining relevant into the future.

    Build your connections by marketing experiences that the whole family can benefit from, and when talking to kids, speak their language by addressing them in ways that speak to their expectations of creativity, customizability and personalization.

    Emerging from a technology-driven world is a ?participatory culture? revolving almost completely around consumers, their digital activities, their desires, and how they?d like their world to look and work.

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