Tokyo – Calling millennials the “single greatest force to the world and our respective businesses,” Coca-Cola Chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent kicked off the Consumer Goods Forum 2013 Global Summit by sizing up the opportunities and challenges 18-to-30 year olds will present to brands in the years to come.

Millennials are hopeful and optimistic, Kent noted, and they comprise a generation that demands transparency and change.

“They expect all of us to step up, be heard and make a difference… they’re monitoring our every move,” he said, referring to the consumer goods sector. “And they won’t love our brands unless they respect and trust our companies. Who we are is as important—and, in some cases, more important—than what we produce.”

The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) brings together more than 900 senior executives from top retailers, manufacturers and service providers spanning 70 countries. Kent, who will step down as CGF co-chair this year after a three-year stint but will remain on the organization’s board, addressed the delegation alongside co-chair Gareth Ackerman, chairman of Pick n Pay Stores.

Kent shared a series of eye-opening statistics about the impact millennials are making across the developing and developed world. For example, 52 percent of the world’s population is under 30, and the global youth market will represent 75 percent of the available workforce and account for 70 percent of the world’s spending power by 2020.

“They’ve already influenced two presidential elections, reshaped the nation’s media and communications industries and dramatically reset expectations about work, career and family,” he added.

This “born digital” generation owns today’ social media channels and, therefore, co-owns the brands they enjoy.

“In this time of instant communication, we need consumers who are avid supporters… raging fans,” Kent concluded. “We need them to be knowledgeable advocates. That kind of personal connection and affection is the true measure of advantage for successful brands.”