Gen Alpha: Thinking Outside the Generational Box

How well do you know the students in your cafeterias? It may be difficult to understand the younger generations… or even know exactly what they experience day to day. While there has been time to understand Generation Z, who make up 10 to 18-year-olds in school, we’re still getting to know Generation Alpha, who make up the 4 to 9-year-olds in elementary schools. Let’s get to know Gen Alpha as the primary generation in our schools for the next two decades! 

Marketing Manager Malaika Jenkins presented at the 2022 Annual Nutrition Conference on helping school nutrition professionals recognize Gen Alpha’s needs, and how to market to them in their school lunch programs. To do this, we’ll dive into how Gen Alpha compares to previous generations, and how this influences how you can engage with them.

New Generation in Schools Right Now

Gen Alpha hits the 9-year-old and younger range, as well as children yet to be born. Gen Alpha students will be the majority generation sooner than you think, so it is imperative to get a jump on learning how to adjust to the needs of Gen Alpha. 

But why adjust? Gen Alpha will have grown up in an age with so much technologic achievement. It’s all they know, and it will continue to be an even bigger influence on their lives. Since this generation has so much riding on technology, a shift in tactics with your cafeteria is needed.

Generational Breakdown

When comparing generations, please understand these are not concrete, blanket statements. People may differ based on race, class, geography, and religion. These ideas are simply an overview of the generations. 

Each generation has wanted something different from their lives. This is something that is understandable as attitudes and feelings can change over time depending on the way of life and culture in that particular time period. Therefore, it also makes sense that marketing and engagement strategies change each generation. 

For the Baby Boomer Generation, there was above the line marketing. This means that marketers used methods such as radio, print, billboards, and TV to reach their audiences.

Gen X was also introduced to below the line marketing. With this marketing style, marketers switched their tactics toward event sponsorships and content marketing. 

Gen Y experienced the transition to viral media. There was a mix of both above and below the line marketing with this tactic as marketers began using the emergence of search engines and social media. 

Gen Z is immersed with specific, tailored campaigns in which they can interact with. This means that they experience a brand of marketing that includes watchable videos, clickable ads, polls, and other creative means. 

While Gen Alpha will experience the same type of marketing as Gen Z, we predict this generation will continue to travel down the path of personalized algorithms that only markets brands that align with their wants. This currently happens with almost any search engine, but it could be more expansive once Gen Alphas get older. 

Engaging Gen Alpha 

According to McCrindle Research, Gen Alpha is the most materially endowed and empowered generation ever. This generation will forever live in a world where anything they could ever want (within reason) is only a click away. Almost everything nowadays is available on an app! While this is true for anyone living now, Gen Alpha will grow up knowing having this experience. 

Also, do not underestimate Gen Alpha’s influence on their parent’s (Millennials) purchasing habits. Communicative and generous, Gen X parents are a key target for marketing to your families digitally. 

Because Gen X-ers are internet savvy and most will likely have smartphones, offering with browser based platforms, an interesting social media presence, and transparency regarding your school nutrition process will increase engagement and support. Millenials and Gen Alphas like to be digitally connected and they have high standards. To maintain their attention, feel free to create appealing graphics, revamp your district’s school nutrition webpage, or get creative with memes! If you can convince both parents and students they’re going to have nutritious and delicious meals, your participation will soar, and so will the student’s nutrition.

How to Market Your Program

To engage the parents, try these tactics:

  1. All-in-One Apps
  2. Menu Boards
  3. Social Media

All-In-One Apps

With the use of a smartphone, parents can access everything at the click of a button – whether they want to browse menus, make payments, or engage in polls. Now that Gen Alpha is in schools, this ease of access could go a long way in ensuring that Gen Alpha students are receiving every ounce of nutrition in their school meals. 

Menu Boards 

Utilizing digital boards in the cafeteria could help students understand what they are receiving in any given line. Placing menus with high quality and enticing photos catches the eyes of the students and could potentially encourage them to jump in the line with more nutritious options than any other line. Plus, if they know what they want beforehand, it can make the ordering process smoother and get students through the line quicker. Choose menu boards that can be customized to your needs, like using custom photos and colors so you’re always in brand compliance with your school district. 

Social Media 

The use of social media is a given when it comes to trying to engage with your community. Parents of Gen Alphas are in the age range for social media use, so increasing the chance to catch their eye with a post is always a smart move. If your department does not have its own social media platform, you can provide ideas to the Communications Manager for your district to post on the district’s or school’s main page. Whether it is an appealing graphic with your menu, a photo of the school meal dish, or a shout out to your cafeteria workers, families will love to feel involved in the process. 

Now that you know more about Gen Alphas and their parents, and have some ideas on how you can appeal to them, it’s up to you to get creative! There is no specific formula when it comes to engaging your community because only your team knows them best. If you come up with any ideas on how to improve your engagement strategies for students, be sure to share them with us at