Who Are Our Customers?

We often hear how things are and will be changed by the pervasive influence of the internet and all the changes in generational wants and needs. How the millennials will cause business models to change from what we know today as “normal” and transition to accommodate the wants and needs of our shifting customer base. Our core customer base is variable as people’s wants and needs change with age and environment. The various generation names assigned to those born during the twentieth and now twenty-first century seem to reflect the advancements, preferences, and yes, politics of each generation. Since the turn of the century in 1900, there have been seven distinct generational groups with very different ideas of how to live life. These generational names are commonly referred by descriptive and recognizable names.

GI Generation: Born 1901-1926 (ages 91-116)

A new age of radio and air flight; they were the generation that remembers life without airplanes, radio, and TV. Most of them grew up without modern conveniences like refrigerators, electricity and air conditioning. This generation is highly romanticized and often called the “Greatest Generation”. We might even know a few that are still alive, but they are few and mostly fragile and definitely not our core customers for packaged ice.

Mature/Silents: Born 1927- 1945 (ages 72-90)

These people who knew hardship like no others growing up during the depression that marked the psyche of so many. They are pre-feminism women; women stayed home generally to raise children, if they worked it was only certain jobs like teacher, nurse or secretary. Men pledged loyalty to the corporation, once you got a job, you generally kept it for life. They have overcome hardship to become the richest, yet frugal, while still being the most affluent retirees in history. Some of them are us, and there might be some who are our customers, but not our core customer.

Baby Boomers: Born 1946 and 1964 (ages 53-71)

These are the people who revolted from the status quo. Seldom experienced the hardships of their parents and some felt empowered to make a mark and change the world, while others wanted to show the world how great they envision themselves to be. There are two distinct sub-sets of this generation: 1) the save-the-world revolutionaries of the ’60s and ’70s; and 2) the party-hardy career climbers (Yuppies) of the ’70s/’80s, the “me first” generation, the “Rock and roll” music generation. In both cases they ushered in the free love and societal “non-violent” protests which triggered violence they said they abhorred. They have an underlying trait of self-righteousness and self-centeredness almost omnipotence. Mostly too self-absorbed for much neighborly involvement, yet having strong desires to change the common values for the good of all, but in the boundaries of their own ideal utopia.

Even though their mothers were generally housewives and responsible for all child rearing, women of this generation began working outside the home in record numbers, thereby changing the entire nation as this was the first generation to have their own children raised in a two-income household where mom was not omnipresent. They were one of the largest generations in history. Their aging has changed western civilization almost incomprehensibly; they are the first generation to use the word “retirement” to mean being able to enjoy life after the children have left home. Instead of sitting in a rocking chair, they go skydiving, exercise religiously and take up hobbies to fill free time that is deemed so limited. All this energy also tends to keep them active and increase their longevity. These are the customers that first discovered our product to be for enjoyment over necessity. They use packaged ice today because of a habit formed over years of familiarity with the ubiquitous ice cube. We must retain these customers, but experimentation and imagination when it comes to ice products is no longer as attractive to them as it was in their younger years. Packaged ice is more an expected commodity now, not the accent added for pure enjoyment.

Generation X: Born between 1965 and 1980 (ages 37-52)

These are the “latch-key kids” who grew up street-smart but isolated, often with divorced or career-driven two income “Baby Boomer” parents. The term “Latch-Key” came from the house key kids wore around their neck or in their pocket, because they would go home from school to an empty house. They are self-sufficient, entrepreneurial, and very individualistic. Government oversight and big business mean little to them. Just as all the other generations they feel misunderstood by previous generations. Cynical of many major social minded institutions and programs initiated by the “Mature/Silent” and some older “Baby Boomers”, which failed their parents, or themselves, during their formative years. They are eager to change the world they grew up in as children and now want make marriage work and “be there” for their children.

These might be our most populous customer base. Raised in the transition phase of written based knowledge to digital knowledge archives; most remember being in school without computers and then after the introduction of computers in middle school or high school embraced the new access to all knowledge. They desire a chance to learn, explore and make a contribution.

These people tend to commit to self rather than an organization or specific career. This generation averages seven career changes in their lifetime, it is not normal to work for a company for life, unlike previous generations. Society and thus individuals are envisioned as disposable once a specific job task is completed or supplanted by technological advancements. They are often self-absorbed and suspicious of all formal organization. They survive as individuals, are cautious, skeptical, unimpressed with authority, and are self-reliant almost to a fault.

Their distrust for advertisements leads them to following fads such as organic foods, no GMO products, excessive avoidance of germs, and trusting their health to their own knowledge and actions. These are our core customers today. We appeal to their sense of purity with HACCP assured packaged ice, “Ice You Can Trust” or in their case ice “they” can trust will not damage their bodies or their loved ones. These are the people who also tend to relax with pure adventure and experiences. A group outing is no longer a picnic in the park, but more often a participatory event followed by a relaxing celebration with extravagant parties and ice carvings, vodka luges, ice bars for the pure experience of just doing it because they can.

Generation Y/Millennium: Born between 1981 and 2000 (ages 17-36)

This generation shows a sharp departure from Generation X. They are nurtured by omnipresent Gen X parents, they are taught to be optimistic, and focused. They respect authority. They schedule everything down to the half hour. They feel enormous academic pressure to reach beyond their potential. They feel like a new generation and have great expectations for themselves. They prefer digital literacy as they grew up in a digital environment. Have never known a world without computers! They get all their information and most of their socialization from the Internet. Prefer to work in teams, but not necessarily in the same location and with unlimited access to information. They tend to be assertive with strong views. Envision the world as a 24/7 place; want fast and immediate processing. They have been told over and over again that they are special, and they expect the world to treat them that way. They do not live to work, they prefer a more relaxed and flexible work environment with a lot of hand holding and accolades.

These are also our customers today and our customers for tomorrow. They work hard and they also play hard. They have learned how to play from their GEN X parents and are accustomed to extravagance for pleasure and that often includes using ice in traditional, but customized ways; ice carvings for parties, not just for eye appeal, but for an experience including the must-have party accessories such as vodka luges and extravagant ice bars.

Generation Z/Boomlets: Born after 2001 (ages newborn to 16)

There are three age groups right now: (a) Adolescents; Age 13-16 years old. Both boys and girls have more interest in the opposite sex. They are going through less conflict with parents while showing more independence from parents and are now spending more time with friends. (b) Tweens; Age 8-12 years old. There is an estimated >60 million tweens today. More than €100 billion is spent by tweens every year with an additional €350 billion spent by their parents and family members directly for them; (c) Toddler/Elementary school ages who have not yet developed are not yet our customers.

61 percent of children 8-16 have televisions in their rooms; 35 percent have video games; 14 percent have a DVD player; 12 million have their own cell phones. They have never known a world without computers and cell phones. They have “Eco-fatigue”: they are actually tired of hearing about the environment and the many ways we have to save it.

These are our customers of tomorrow and we must learn what these future customers will want, not this year, but next year and the year after that. These customers will grow up while the packaged ice industry undergoes possibly the greatest change since cutting ice blocks out of lakes.

In summary: If most of our consumers are ages 18-70 we must cater to very different attitudes toward the consumption of ice cubes. The Gen Y/Millennials, ages 17-36, will look for using ice in less traditional, but customized ways ice carvings and other extravagances. Older consumers in the Generation X, ages 37-52, group tends more toward wanting recognition from brands with prestigious labels and brand names. They want what they think they deserve and want it now for self-gratification. Here we might find a more refined desire for ice products like carved or molded ice cube shapes providing special recognition with disposable unique items and even frozen one use shot glass “cubes” and 3D printed disposable ice art used in high cost drinks. Then we have the Baby Boomers, ages 53-71, with a feeling of self-righteousness and self-centeredness. Here a non-descript ice cube will suffice, but possible to chill a high value brand of spirits. The want to show extravagance toned down by combining over-indulgence with a commodity like a glass of Johnnie Walker Blue Label with three cubes of ice just to show how routine it is to indulge with this extravagant drink. So here is our quandary; our customers range over more than 50 years of very different preferences and attitudes toward what we know is a lump of frozen water.

How do we cater to each of these consumers with our single product, ice cubes? Yes we address a common need by promising high quality ice, “Ice You Can Trust”, but what else can we do to set EPIA ice apart from all the other ice served in restaurants, bars, special events, everywhere ice is provided and consumed every day of every year?

Like all groups of like-minded people and companies, there are those that have a vision and others that follow, some strike out for the pure excitement of “let’s try something new” others take the slow methodical path and try a change, test it, tweak it, try some more, tweak it and continue without a strong commitment and eventually miss out on the majority of benefit that could be had because someone else jumped in faster and stronger and dominated that new market niche. We also have all the people between those extremes. The EPIA is the forum where we can share our visions, form our ideas, learn from our colleagues, and move forward with sound plans for our individual futures in the packaged ice industry in Europe. That is why we need strong member participation in our European Packaged Ice Association. We need each other to provide for ourselves individually. That colleagues, is the challenge to our survival and continue success.