Trend report: The CPG brands moving from Millennials to Gen Z

By Joshua Weatherwax

6 min read

April 14, 2021

If you’re a millennial consumer, you might be noticing a shift in trends: The marketing and advertising that used to be aimed at you and your generation is taking on a new look and feel. Muted pastels are being supplanted by bright, bold jewel tones. Clean lines are disappearing in favor of groovy shapes and in-your-face graphics. Even butterfly hair clips and low-rise jeans are back.


So what is going on?


Well, dear millennial consumers, we have some bad news: You’re aging. And as millennials move into their next phase of life, more and more small and medium sized CPG manufacturers are turning their attention – and marketing budgets – to Gen Z, the next generation of consumers. 


So what does Gen-Z look for compared to Millennial consumers? And how are CPG brands embodying the aesthetics and values of a new generation? Let’s take a closer look at a few examples.


Millennial Minimalism


As early as 2016, journalists around the internet speculated if minimalism would finally end. Here we are in 2021 and minimalism is still alive and well. In fact it’s become so standard as to represent the lifestyle of an entire generation: Millennials.


Minimalism may have begun as a design aesthetic, but it’s come to mean so much more to millennial consumers. It means accumulating only what you need and Maria Kondo-ing the rest. It means renting a downtown high rise instead of purchasing a three bedroom house in the suburbs. It means off-the-beaten-path, backpack-only travel – or at least it did, pre-COVID. It means prioritizing self-care and well-being over climbing the corporate ladder, and rescuing a cat and dog instead of planning for parenthood. 


Of course not every millennial is making the same life decisions, but it does appear that regardless of the path a given millennial chooses, they tend to do it with similar values (and color palette) in mind. 


Examples of brands appealing to millennials From The Cut


The CPG brands embodying “Millennial Minimalism”


RX Bars by Insurgent Brands

RXBar by Insurgent Brands 

This best-in-class brand rose to #20 in the total Cereal Bars category in the last year. It’s minimalist packaging with just the facts – ingredients and nothing else – speaks to the stripped down, wellness focus millennials prefer in their favorite brands.


Boxie Cat packaging


This best-in-class brand rose to #8 in the Cat Litter category in Neighborhood Pet retailers over the last year, seeing a 21% increase in sales and 58% increase in distribution points. Not only does the product feature a minimalist design, the brand’s loyalty to neighborhood retailers resonates with millennials who seek to support local businesses. BoxieCat has also implemented a subscription model – an appealing feature for millennial consumers even before the pandemic.


Cocokind beauty products


Cocokind is one of many beauty brands to have been hit by the “Glossier Effect”. Their focus on minimalist branding and healthy, sustainable, and cruelty-free skincare line has made them a hit with millennial consumers. This best-in-class brand has risen to #5 in the Organic Facial Moisturizer category over the past year, and they’ve also grown their distribution points by 15% since last year.


Gen Z Maximalism


If you imagine the millennial aesthetic to be sophisticated and restrained, go in the opposite direction for Gen Z. The bright, bold colors, shapes and textures of this generation of consumers is more than an aesthetic – it’s a reflection of their values. For Gen Z, there’s no hiding or obscuring who you are. There’s only “living your truth” – no matter how big and brash that is. That means a graphic design bordering on camp or kitsch isn’t over-the-top for the sake of it: it’s asserting honesty and confidence, and the brands looking to appeal to this generation need to embody those values as well.


gen z aesthetic from bloomberg

From Bloomberg


The brands embodying “Gen Z Maximalism”


Colgate Gen Z campaign

Colgate is a brand that needs no introduction – but it wanted to get more acquainted with Gen Z. The brand’s close eye on the pulse of emerging trends put them ahead of the curve with the launch of their “CO. by Colgate”, a brand they call “Oral beauty for a new generation”, unafraid to “SMILE BRIGHTER, SPEAK UP LOUDER, LIVE YOUR TRUTH BOLDLY.” Even their choice of brave, brash all capitalized copy was a deliberate decision to curate a brand especially made for Gen Z consumers.


Poppi probiotic soda

Shark Tank winner Poppi is still small, but not for long at the rate they’re growing. This low sugar, low calorie, prebiotic soda is growing sales and distribution fast. The brand’s uniqueness puts it in a category of its own, so we expect to see more prebiotic sodas rushing to the market very soon. Their branding is clearly targeting a Gen Z audience with its bold colors, shapes and quirky copy.


Smart sweets

Smart Sweets is also carrying through trends like low sugar and plant-based to market to a younger audience. Their brightly-colored nutrition labels are poised to supplant the Millennial Minimalism of the past decade. This best-in-class brand already can’t be called “small” with its sales success, and it only continues to grow – by 114% over the past year with a 250% increase in distribution points. 


So, is this the final death knell of minimalist branding in favor of Gen Z boldness? Or will millennial preferences continue to drive more minimalistic CPG brands? What’s your preference?


Data points you see in this article were pulled from Byzzer’s Brand Ranking Report for the latest 52 weeks of NielsenIQ retail measurement at US FMCG retailers, ending Feb 22, 2021.

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