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Generation F

The anticipation of another demographic echo

September 29, 2009
By Michelle Brisebois


When the news broke in August that the “Lion of the Senate” Ted Kennedy had passed away, millions of people were no doubt watching the CNN broadcast from their local pub.

When the news broke in August that the “Lion of the Senate” Ted Kennedy had passed away, millions of people were no doubt watching the CNN broadcast from their local pub.

As the media turned all of its attention to this historic event, millions of people looked at each other over their beers and asked the same question.

“Who’s Ted Kennedy?”


Generation “F” a.k.a. the Facebook generation has arrived. Let’s face it; somebody of legal drinking age in this country could have been born as late as 1990. These kids were born cable-ready, never knowing a world without the Internet, microwaves or cell phones. Ask them to watch an episode of Mad Men filled with sexist comments and cigarette smoking and they’ll have a hard time believing society ever tolerated such behaviour in a place of business.

We’ve looked at these kids many times over the years – mainly in relation to their ability to influence the purchase decisions of their parents. Now they are beginning to come of age and hence they are an economic force to be addressed.

We should care big-time because they represent 25 per cent of the Canadian population and just like their parents the baby boomers, the trends they embrace will shape our economy.

We know that depression-era babies tended to be more conservative and frugal. Baby boomers are competitive, seeking success in a labour market bursting with others also trying to make their way. The massive consumerism we’ve seen in the last 20 years has been largely driven by the boomers but we know that as people age they stop spending and start saving.

The economy will rely on echo boomer trends to grow.

Let’s take a splash of demographics and mix it with some economics and throw in a pinch of crystal ball gazing and see if we can predict where generation F will be within the next five years.

Age of Majority
With the peak of the echo boom occurring around 1990 many are turning 19 this year. These young people will now be actively purchasing alcohol.

They may have been consuming it earlier but not purchasing it. Look for growth in the number of bars and clubs. Vending machines in these types of establishments could do well.

Delayed Careers
According to a new study by Pew Research Center’s Social and Demographic Trends project, the recession is likely to present echo boomers with some major challenges.

The recession is forcing baby boomers to remain in the workforce longer while keeping younger adults from taking their place among the employed. According to the study, nearly four-in-ten adults who are working past the median retirement age of 62 say they’ve had to delay their retirement because of the downturn.

Among workers ages 50 to 61, more than 60 per cent say they might have to push back their expected retirement date because of current economic conditions.

Look to colleges and universities for vending opportunities with the echo boomers. The enrollment numbers have jumped significantly even on top of increases already posted in the last few years. They’ll be staying in school longer to buy themselves some time for the congestion in the workforce to ease. Because of their delayed entry to the workforce, they will also be on a tighter budget.

A study examining the spending habits and attitudes of echo boomers was conducted by Visa USA. The study reveals that echo boomers, who believe they are facing a difficult economic future, are demonstrating a more practical and mature approach to spending beyond their years.

Nearly half of echo boomers (48 per cent) describe themselves as savers. When it comes to shopping, echo boomers are focused on getting more value for their money: 69 per cent consider themselves wait-and-see shoppers, and 83 per cent say they are bargain shoppers.

The study reveals that 80 per cent of echo boomers stick to a strict budget when making purchases and 81 per cent describe themselves as trying to cut back on what they spend. Perhaps influenced by watching their parents agonize over their dwindling retirement funds, more than 70 per cent of echo boomers are concerned about having enough money for retirement. This statistic is on par with the about-to-retire baby boomers (78 per cent).

A 2006 study by Harris Interactive on the perception of the vending industry revealed that 71 per cent believed vending prices are higher than prices in other outlets, and 63 per cent said vending offerings are of lower value than those in other retail outlets. A simple sign that says “prices same or lower than other retail outlets” may do the trick. Frugal echo boomers will be especially keen to hear this message.

They are comfortable with technology and, in fact, will likely prefer machines that are more technologically evolved. Today’s echo boomers text, tweet and instant message their way through everyday receiving the information they need instantly. Make sure your machines have an online presence be it a Facebook page or Twitter feed to update when the machine is restocked and with what new products.

Remember during your youth when you got one TV station that came in a bit fuzzy until you clicked the rotator on the roof to just the right position?

Generation F has hundreds of TV stations to choose from, gazillions of websites too. They don’t have to buy the whole album on Saturday morning at the mall – they can download only the songs they like at 2 a.m. if they choose.

This cohort expects to have lots and lots to choose from all the time. Make sure your machines have a wide variety of flavour profiles and options. Switch it up in your dfrequently to keep things feeling new. This group expects it.

As people age, they tend to save. When they’re young – they spend. That’s been the way of the world for centuries. Baby boomers are just starting to slow their rabid spending but it will slow even more in years to come. It’s time to shift the attention just a little bit south of “boomerland.” At least they know who Michael Jackson is.

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