Every generation has its own take on food, and Generation Z is no different. Gen Z is defined by demographers as the follow up to millennials, anyone born between the mid-1990s and the early 2000s. They make up 25% of the population, and by 2020 will account for over one-third of the US population. More importantly to food manufacturers, they have significant buying power, an estimated $143 billion in the United States alone.
The Home Alone Culture
The home culture of Gen Z is usually a very busy household of dual working parents and a heavy schedule of after-school activities, making Gen Z kids more autonomous. As a result, they are more confident in the kitchen than the preceding generation. They tend to see food preparation as an accessible life skill available to anyone with an internet connection. Any recipe is just a YouTube video away.
Gen Z’s Relationship to Cooking
Freed from the intimidation of food prep, Gen Z welcomes the activity. Fifty-three percent of Gen Z enjoys cooking. Twenty-six percent make most of their own food, and 71% “would love to learn how to cook more.” Eggs, pasta, rice, vegetables, cookies or brownies, pancakes, waffles, and French toast top their list of favorites. But a busy schedule has left Gen Z watching more cooking videos than really cooking.
In addition, unlike millennials, Gen Z is less concerned about health and wellness. Though they have a richer background in health and wellness education, healthy eating is less of a priority (for now). They are more likely to seek out indulgent flavors and fun food experiences.
How Gen Z is Changing Food Culture
A combination of a busy lifestyle and internet exposure to a diverse and sophisticated food universe has made Gen Z approach eating and food choices differently. Traditional mealtimes have lost their meaning. Flexibility to eat whenever and wherever they want is preferred over a rigid dinner time. That changes the nature of meals itself. Ready-to-eat foods replace traditional meals. Snacking takes precedent. Gen Z is 53 times more likely to consume snacks as meals annually.
While eating on the run, Gen Z hasn’t lost their taste for something different. The popularity of the foodie movement has made Gen Z more experimental. They are willing to try unfamiliar food options and see enjoying international cuisines as a nod to diversity. Most significantly, Gen Z is willing to pay more for higher quality food. Nearly half of those surveyed spend $10 to $20 on a dine-out meal, and 15% spend $20 or more. They see eating cheap food as a social stigma.
How Food Manufacturers Are Pivoting For Gen Z
Blending high quality with convenience and flavor diversity is the triad strategy for any food producer targeting Gen Z. Ingredient developers need to be part of the team when defining the perfect balance that appeals to this generation of consumers.
Producers must deliver premium meal offerings with fast and easy preparation to appeal to Gen Z. Ingredient developers can help with shelf-stable product development that has the same tantalizing flavors of the homemade dishes that Gen Z consumers may remember making (or dreamed of making) themselves when they had time.
By expanding the palate, food producers can tap every regional and international food trend that Gen Z is following on social. Achieving that diversity requires ingredient specialists who know how to dial up umami flavor in a wonton soup or enhance the robust cheese notes in a margarita pizza.
While there is less concern for healthy eating among the generation, their health education is still in the back of their minds. A smart food producer can offer exceptional flavor and food experiences while also leveraging a “good for you” benefit. Checking both health and flavor boxes offers what Gen Z knows is important and what they want in a product at the same time.
Expert ingredient developers can also assist producers with a health benefits approach. They can amplify the full flavor in existing healthy RTE products. Think of boosting the spice notes of a ready-to-eat vegan stir fry. They can also modulate health benefits in savory dishes, such as reducing the sodium in a microwave burrito.
For food producers, it comes down to meeting the market at the ingredient level. The recipe is simple: Give Gen Z wellness and flavor together so they don’t need to prioritize one over the other. Focus on new satisfying on-the-go snack food options over sit-down meals. Most importantly, explore flavor options beyond the bland. World cuisine taste profiles can be dialed up in everyday foods with the right ingredient formulation.
DairiConcepts, the customization brand of DFA Ingredient Solutions, is a leading U.S. provider of dairy-based ingredients for the global food industry, producing cheese and dairy powders and concentrates, seasonings, flavor enhancers, and hard Italian cheese. Founded in 2000, the company today has eight manufacturing plants in the U.S., two development laboratories, and a pilot testing plant. Facilities are SQF Certified and recognized by the Global Food Safety Initiative.