[INTERVIEW] Selling to Gen Z as an ice cream brand

We recently sat down with Giorgio Scarella, Global Head of Consumer & Shopper Understanding for ice cream at leading chocolate and confectionary company Ferrero. We discussed Gen Z’s expectation of speedy product innovation, the importance of transparent and consistent brand storytelling, as well as the emphasis on creating experiences for ice cream fans.

Scroll down to read what he had to say. ⬇️

Thank you so much for taking the time to be here today. Please tell us a bit about yourself, what is your role at Ferrero?

My name is Giorgio Scarella, I am working within the CSU organization in the Ferrero group – CSU stands for Consumer and Shopper Understanding. I have been working in Ferrero now for almost 17 years, always in consumer understanding, and have been responsible for our global ice cream category for almost three years now.

The category is the latest journey that Ferrero is doing, and I think it is absolutely exciting, an incredible adventure because Ferrero has not been present in this category before. So, we really started from scratch, first understanding that there was the potential for now entering the ice cream category and then understanding how to play a significant role in the category. We have done a lot of work and are now in our fourth year with our pipeline, with 15 different products depending on the country. A new category in less than four years – it’s an incredible result! A part of our discussion will probably be related to speed, I think that the new generation is not like the previous one who was waiting patiently for something new. You want to see things happening now!

That is true, we are a quick generation! There is indeed quite the quick turnaround of trends and developments in the ice cream category – what is the latest trend that has caught your attention?

I think the one big trend – that is quite similar to a lot of other categories – is better-for-you (BFY). It is about BFY in terms of ingredients, raw materials, calories and nutrition, so attention to the consumer but also attention to the environment. It is a cross-category trend but also super important for ice cream: it is a different, less pragmatic angle, as ice cream is probably the most emotional category within Sweet Packaged Food (SPF) and people are not so interested in healthy stuff when it comes to ice cream. But in any case, BFY is able to grab the attention of the consumer.

The other one is more related to communication and events. Ice cream is an emotional category, linked to summer, events and creating memories during that time. This is important for the consumer but also for the brand because you are able to really engage the consumer at a different level – not only offering a product but offering them an experience. Connecting people, creating stories, creating content – it is becoming bigger and bigger. There are certain brands, like Cornetto, that have always been related to festivals and summer memories. Now, Magnum is working a lot on something that is perhaps more sophisticated, something for a fancy occasion, like a piano concert.

For sure, we know that Gen Z values any immersive, tangible, offline experiences that go beyond just consuming the product, so that is very interesting. Speaking of Gen Z in general, how would you characterise my generation as an audience?

First of all, I feel that you are always on, always active. You are really, really looking for speed, looking for innovations or new things. I think [you’ve] been always exposed to new stimuli, I have the feeling that you don’t want to get bored, while my generation was really happy when we were getting bored. The other point is that you are absolutely more informed than [my generation], you have a lot of tools to understand, to investigate. My generation or previous ones, we were not able to access all this information – to learn something, you had to go to the library or buy a newspaper that was particularly related to a topic. The accessibility of information makes a difference.

That's a very a crucial point, that access to information and wanting to hear more from brands and wanting to learn more beyond the product. I also like what you said before about ice cream connecting, bringing people together offline. We know that Gen Z also values online community, what is your point of view on community building as an ice cream brand, and how would you go about that?

As you say, the digital is super important. You need to create pages on which you can interact and share your experience [as a brand], show what you are doing or what you have tried. It is crucial but complicated because the internet is full of these kinds of activities now, everyone is doing it. So, you really need to do it in the right way, to really grab the attention, otherwise you will be forgotten after one day. You don’t just create a community where you share something but go deeper than that and relate it to shared values, a specific aspect of life that you can create a connection over.

It is easy to get lost or to be forgotten, especially with the speedy turnover of trends and innovations that you mentioned before. On social media, this turnover is really put into overdrive: how can brands respond to all these online (food) trends, from aesthetics to experiences, and how much should you?

I think it’s important not to pick up all of them but concentrate on the ones that are creating value for the consumer but also for the brand. If you’re just following trends, first of all you have to follow them forever and it’s just not feasible to be honest. Second, the generation is going to ask which is your purpose, why are you following these trends? So, you have to limit the trends you follow, to be sure that it’s really fitting with your brand, your brand purpose, otherwise you are sure to lose money and connection. It would be easier to follow everything in a way, you go through a fantastic digital agency, and they do whatever you want, but then you are losing instead of building.

Is there something that you were surprised to learn about Gen Z as consumers, beyond experiences, the need for speed and brand purpose?

It’s probably related to their engagement and fidelity. One of the first things that comes to our minds when speaking about Generation Z is that they change brands easily but at the end of the day this is not true. If you have a message, a story, then you can convince them to stay with you for a long time. It is up to the brand to hook their attention for a long time and not become just one of the million trends that they are exposed to every day. And when they follow you, they will become your first ambassador and that is important. It comes to natural to them, not paid influencers, I am really speaking of normal people who love your brand and want to talk about their experience and do so at a large scale, because if you post a video, a story, a lot of people will be exposed to it at once. When I was younger, you would maybe tell a few friends about a brand, and it would stop there – now you get free brand ambassadors!

It is a unique opportunity for brands and consumers alike, to make their voice known and have a much more direct conversation than we could previously. Now looking at the other side of the medal, what is something that turns Gen Z consumers away, what could brands stumble over when wanting to attract the loyalty of Gen Z?

This is a quite a tough question, but I think sometimes it’s really related to value for money. If you are not able to have a nice equation between what you are asking them to pay and what you are offering, you can lose them really quickly. Inflation is touching everyone, but perhaps older consumers have more stability from an economical point of view, they have more money and different expenses, so if they want an ice cream, they go and buy it. For the younger generation, life is becoming more expensive, so you need to give them the possibility to offer them something that is worth their money. The other point is communication, try to be honest and transparent and have one message, not something that changes every year. You need to be consistent, and not create confusion amid these requests for speed and news and innovation.

That’s seems to be a good summary of all these factors that determine the acceptance of the price point for the generation: if they are loyal to the brand, they are probably willing to pay the price. They will be loyal, if they see a consistent brand story. Is there anything you would like to add, anything you have not shared so far?

Coming back to one of the initial points, I think it’s important not to overwhelm the generation with information. You need to find the right balance between providing honest and spot-on information on the important stuff, but not bore them with too many details, too much information that can be confusing and distract from what is important.

I agree, making information accessible doesn't necessarily mean drowning people in information, so being consistent and concise is key!

Thank you so much for taking the time today 😃

Karen Rickers Karen Rickers