What Gen Z Wants: A Look Inside Their Food Preferences
They are part of a fast-paced world with instant global access through their mobile devices. They are plugged in to exploring and talking about food in their online social circles.
More than other generation, Gen Z are the most aware of current events, socially conscious, ethnically diverse, technologically connected, and politically engaged. As the most diverse generation, they are subsequently exposed to a host of cuisines and cultures thanks to family and friends. They are open to exploring different foods because of their extensive travel connections. Moreover, they have grown up with TV shows like Top Chef and MasterChef Junior, Food Network, Cooking Channel, Instagram short form cooking videos, and YouTube.
Connectivity is important to Gen Z diners. They have tremendous access to and reliance on technology and information. They thrive on posting and sharing information on Meta (formally Facebook), Instagram, and TikTok. Not surprisingly, their social media accounts are likely to drive their decisions about food.
Food Trends That Appeal to Gen Z
This generation wants more control over what they order. So, it’s no mystery that fast casual niches like Chipotle, Sweet Greens, and Poke Bowl are appealing, because they offer variety and the opportunity to build meals with made-to-order options. But make no mistake, Gen Z will go to high-end restaurants for the food experience and photo opportunities.
According to the International Food Information Council’s (IFIC) 2022 Food and Health Survey, Gen Z feel that sustainability plays an important role in decisions around what they eat. Fifty percent said their food and beverage choices have a significant or moderate environmental impact.
Gen Z are making a huge impact on the food industry. With the high visibility of food trucks, they subscribe heavily to street food. Technomic’s College and University Trend Report found that 42% of Gen Z are interested in street food on menus, while 46% say chicken is their protein of choice for dinner. Plant-based offerings, fermented foods, pizzas, and bowls like burrito bowls, poke bowls, and acai bowls are hugely popular among this group.
Still, it’s all about experiential dining. They want to try new foods, and are drawn to places offering sustainable, organic, locally grown items on menus. The more transparent the restaurant is with their ingredients, the better. Gen Z prefers specialty beverages, bottled water, smoothies, and fruit juices.
Convenience Ranks High
According to the American Egg Board, Gen Z likes convenience, with social media being at the center. Ecommerce will continue to grow, as they are likely to do online ordering and takeout, including groceries and restaurant orders. Furthermore, a Tufts Nutrition Report says that nearly half of Gen Z say they are willing to pay more for foods they believe are healthier.
According to Cassandra, ENGINE’s insights and strategy group that studies trendsetting young consumers, the report Young & Hungry revealed Gen Z consider themselves the “foodie” generation as part of their identity. Fueled by a desire to discover new recipes, they find inspiration from social media platforms like Tik Tok. More than half of those surveyed say what they eat indicates who they are as a person. Vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian that includes vegetables, grains, topped with an egg, and pescatarian that includes vegetables and fish are commonplace.
Sharing their culinary experience ranks high among Gen Z. They look for foods that are personable and photogenic. They use Instagram to communicate and make decisions about restaurants and food choices. It is no surprise that Gen Z are among today’s food influencers. Their use of social media, and in-app features, is shaping food trends. We see this with the rise of Tik Tok, influencing how food companies are developing new brands and product lines based on consumer social media engagement algorithms. In fact, Cassandra’s Young & Hungry report shares that 53% of Gen Z respondents say they find inspiration for new foods through the popular social media app.
Gen Z are changing the face of the food and hospitality industry and reshaping trends. Restauranters, brands, marketers, and operators should take heed in order to enhance their presence, gain popularity and boost their bottom line. They can start by doing the following:
1. Refresh menus keep offerings innovative, add fresh flavors, sustainable options, and small plates.
2. Offer items featuring plant-based, natural, organic, authentic, free-range, sustainable, locally grown options that reflect social responsibility.
3. Update digital presence and engage by having an active social media, online ordering, encouraging customers to tag your restaurant and reading and responding to customer reviews.
4. Create your own integrated online ordering system to service the population working from home.
5. Include Latin, Caribbean, African, Asian, Middle Eastern and other ethnic offerings. Add items that are fresh, made-from-scratch with unique flavors like tamarind, lemongrass, vinegar, yuzu, and jerk, hot, and spicy.
6. Create an inviting social experience including providing access to wi-fi.
7. Include customizable sophisticated twists on traditional items like gourmet coffees, teas, lattes, smoothies, pastries, grab and go items and snacks.
Pay attention to trends that appeal to Gen Z. According to Cassandra’s Young & Hungry report, 47% of Gen Z surveyed said that over the next few years they will be prioritizing more mental health focused eating. Gen Z overwhelmingly prefer to shop via augmented reality (AR). In fact, the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), say that restaurants are now entering the Metaverse. With the rise of Gen Z engagement with the metaverse, the hospitality industry must consider what this will mean for their business in the not-too-distant future.
Veronica McLymont, PhD, RDN, CDN
Dr Veronica Mclymont is an author, Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist, and a Certified professional Life coach. She is the recipient of awards in Excellence in Management, Business and Leadership.