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)
Mature/Silents: Born 1927- 1945 (ages 72-90)
Baby Boomers: Born 1946 and 1964 (ages 53-71)
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 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)
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)
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.