Gen Y’s Fave: Whole Foods

Hipsters may not have enough money to put food in their fridge, yet many are willing to pony up the extra cash for eco-friendly brands like Method. This was one of the takeaways from a recent survey conducted by Outlaw Consulting, San Francisco.

The marketing firm polled 100 Gen Y consumers (ages 21-29) from among its panel of trendsetters living in Los Angeles, Miami, New York and San Francisco. The goal was to gauge what brands influencers perceive as being environmentally friendly.

“These are the people that dress cool and go to the cool places,” said Barbara Bylenga, founder and chief strategist at Outlaw. “We weren’t looking for the really environmentally aware people.”

Whole Foods was ranked No.1, primarily because it was the first chain that communicated greenness to this crowd. Respondents credited Whole Foods for changing the way people think about food, packaging and what the food is carried home in, namely reusable sacks.

Trader Joe’s, because of its price points, is considered a more Gen Y friendly retailer. However, it placed second due to its packaging. “They’ll put four apples in a plastic container,” said Bylenga. “Whole Foods does better bulk packaging.”

Ikea, which many viewed as “disposable furniture,” still received props for being among the first retailers to charge for using plastic bags.

Toyota and Honda were neck-and-neck in the car category. Hipsters credited the Civic for its gas mileage. Yet, some were confused as to which maker actually produced the first hybrid car (it was Toyota).

Tom’s Shoes, while not making the top-15, was frequently mentioned as a favorite brand. For every pair a consumer buys, another pair is donated to a child in a Third World Country.

American Apparel also earned props because “it’s like here is a great shirt that will fit you well and oh by the way it’s organic,” said Bylenga. “Companies that were not trying to look like crunchy granola, hippie, green brands and pasting pictures of the rain forest on their products won a lot of respect.”

Method was a popular pick based on its design. Some admired the streamlined look the product had on retail shelves. The fact that its ingredients are biodegradable was considered a bonus.

Like many segments, Gen Y is being impacted by the economy. However, many will look for small ways they can splurge. They enjoy affordable luxuries like Method or Seventh Generation. “These are young people trying to make it, but they will pay a premium for items that go in their bodies or their home,” said Bylenga. “They will pay an extra dollar for something that doesn’t emit toxins.”

Gen Y will also look to their brands for information about the environment. In the case of Honest Tea, many applauded the brand’s decision to go to plastic after it was explained via its packaging that less fuel is used to ship plastic than the heavier glass bottles.

“They’re looking to decide what they want to believe. Plus there’s a certain cache you get for knowing plastic is better because it’s not as heavy,” said Bylenga. “It’s something they can say at a cocktail party.”