Why Gen Z won’t be buying local during COVID-19

Generation Z, Canada’s youngest adult generation, appears to be rebelling against this narrative and instead blazing their own more globally minded trail.

The author(s)

  • Haley Jones Research Analyst, Public Affairs
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In the midst of COVID-19 I’ve seen how many of us have tried to focus on our communities. My own family has taken to buying French’s condiments: “it’s Canadian,” my mother usually says, “we should support the local guy.” The consensus I’ve heard among friends and family is that now is the time for Canadians to come together to keep our local communities strong. However, Generation Z, Canada’s youngest adult generation, appears to be rebelling against this narrative and instead blazing their own more globally minded trail.

While many of us have been influenced by the call to “buy local!” and “support Canadian businesses!”, our data shows that Gen Zers are the least likely of all Canadian generations to say they feel influenced to choose Canadian brands or products as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This does not mean Gen Z feels immune to the effects of coronavirus. Recent Ipsos polling shows that Generation Z is most likely to think COVID-19 will greatly impact Canada and the world. What they’re not buying is the idea that supporting the shop around the corner will help us out of this pandemic. It’s important to be clear here- we’re not saying that Gen Z doesn’t care about their neighbourhood shop or their local pizzeria - but the data tell us that proximity and geographic closeness are not motivating factors to earning Gen Z’s dollar.

Why does Gen Z not feel compelled to prioritize Canadian products over others? A part of this may be related to the way Gen Z’s worldview is formed. Ipsos polling indicates that Gen Z, more than any other generation, cite social media as their source of news. Whereas traditional news sources such as local radio and community newspapers are defined by a geographic reach, online media sources do not have these constraints. If we consider that in 2019, Gen Zers spent upwards of 6 hours on their phones each day, and are engaging most with sources that show them globally-sourced content, then it makes sense that they would be globally, not locally, minded. Effectively, Gen Z feel a stronger affinity for communities based around common ideas, similar interests or beliefs, than the geographic communities they live in.

But how does this relate to Gen Z’s choice to buy, or in this case not buy, a Canadian product?  The answer may lie in what motivates Gen Z to shop- research shows that the qualities of  transparency, trust, relevance, and authenticity appeal to Gen Z. In short, patriotism and locality are not motivators for this generation. If you want to entice them, tell them a story and appeal to their desire for authenticity or global impact. For example, my mother’s decision to choose the “Canadian condiment” won’t resonate for Gen Z. Instead, think of coffee chains that have done away with plastic straws, or converted to recyclable materials. This shift to align with environmentalism (a global issue, not a local one) is more likely to attract Gen Z than a call to support a local player.

As we move forward out of this pandemic, I won’t be surprised if more politicians, public figures and brands continue to encourage people to buy Canadian, but I hope they’ll also highlight how these purchases address larger issues or interests. Shift the narrative towards global (not local!) ideas. This is where Gen Z lives and that’s how you’ll get their attention.     

The data in this article comes from Ipsos Public Affairs’ Context Advantage Suite. For more information on Generation Z and Ipsos’ social research offering, please contact Chris Chhim, Haley Jones, or Jessica Weber. For more information on the Context Advantage Suite please click here.

Haley is a Research Analyst at Ipsos Public Affairs based out of Toronto. She holds a master's degree from the Munk School of Global Affairs specializing in migration and human rights. Prior to joining the Public Affairs team, she worked as a researcher with the University of Toronto and an intern with the United Nations.

The author(s)

  • Haley Jones Research Analyst, Public Affairs