How Gen Z is Shaping the Future of Packaging Design


By: Theresa Christine

Millennials, it’s time to step aside—a new generation is here, and it’s one worth paying attention to. They were born with a smartphone in one hand making them the first truly digital age group, they prefer security in a job over satisfaction, and they’re the most culturally diverse generation yet.

Meet Gen Z.

“The golden age of millennials is coming to an end,” stated Victoria Pekarska, Regional Lead for Brand Owner and Agency Innovation, HP, at Food & Beverage Innovation Forum 2018 (FBIF 2018). “A new generation is standing ready to take over the reigns.”

Generally considered the population born from the mid-1990s onwards, Generation Z is, in fact, not the same as the Millennials who came before them, although they often get lumped together. But Gen Z grew up (and is growing up) through different times, using different technology, and having vastly different experiences.

The first is the most obvious: “They are the first truly digital generation,” Victoria said. Whereas most millennials have access to two screens, Gen Zers use five. Undoubtedly, incorporating digital into packaging is no longer an option, but a required way to remain relevant.


Not so obvious is that Gen Z is more practical and mature than the generation which came before them. “These are young people who grew up during the 2008 recession,” stated Victoria. “This has shaped their outlook on the world. Not to mention they’re willing to pay a price for the right product or service, but they are much more cost-conscious.”

Also surprising is their high priority on the environment—in fact, over 75 percent care about humanity’s impact on the planet. “They’re incredibly green and responsible when it comes to the environment,” Victoria added, “so cause-focused campaigns definitely catch their attention.”

And that can truly be an art form in and of itself. People in Generation Z have about 8 seconds of attention span, so the message needs to be loud and clear. Not only that, they’re unlikely to wait too long at to get a product in their hands. Forget two-day shipping—for Gen Z, they’re they’re looking for two-hour delivery.


“Consumers are spoiled for choice and novelty,” explained Victoria. “They have fragmented attention spans, so if they don’t see what they’re looking for, they’ll move on.”

Packaging designers and brands need to start caring now about how to reach this demographic. “Generation Z will account for 40 percent of all consumers by 2020,” said Victoria. And the key considerations when thinking about what this generation wants and needs will mean the difference between being noticed or being a thing of the past.

Some brands have already set themselves apart. In China, Oreo created the “Oreo Colourfilled Campaign” where consumers could select the one-of-a-kind, collectible packaging they colored themselves, along with a personal message. Amarula Liqueur launched the #NameThemSaveThem campaign where consumers created bespoke designs used on the bottles for the spirit.

Perhaps the most impressive is Brazil’s coffee brand, Café Pelé. “They were aware of the perception that their coffee wasn’t as fresh as other brands in the market,” said Victoria, “so they turned to HP digital printing. They partnered with a local newspaper, the front page of which was printed on the label overnight, and it was delivered with the paper the next day.


While only waiting a few hours for production to finish sounds impossible, it is very much our reality now—and these are the kinds of packaging solutions which resonate with Gen Z. There’s no mass market appeal here; instead, the offerings are individual, limited edition, and in turn, create immense desirability.

“It allows you to go faster to market, reduce your costs, and it considers sustainability,” mentioned Victoria, hitting a few of the important values for Gen Zers. “If you want to drive a unique campaign that stands out, then no doubt about it, digital is the answer.”


Theresa Christine

Theresa entered the world of design through The Dieline. With a background in writing and journalism, she has a passion for discovery and cultivating human connections. Her work for The Dieline is a constant journey to deeply understand all facets of the design process and to investigate what makes designers tick. Theresa's writing has taken her snorkeling in between the tectonic plates in Iceland, horseback riding through a rural Brazilian town, and riding an octopus art car at Burning Man with Susan Sarandon as part of a funeral procession for Timothy Leary (long story). When not writing, she is planning her next trip or taking too many pictures of her cat.