- Gen Z has been deemed the foodie generation, but research from Ketchum found what it calls “a darker side to their relationship with food.” It noted 61% of Gen Z consumers believe they need to eat a certain way to communicate their identity and beliefs, which has created negativity and anxiety among this generation.
- Ketchum said these “unrealistic pressures” have created a “say-eat gap” between Gen Z’s beliefs and behaviors. An overwhelming majority say sustainability, animal welfare and LGBTQ rights are important factors when buying food, but they are not significant purchase drivers. Priorities like taste, value and affordability trump societal issues.
- As Gen Z consumers become responsible for a larger portion of food spending dollars, more CPG companies have introduced products that cater to this demographics' needs and desires.
Earlier this year, coffee giant J.M. Smucker noted consumers in their early 20s were too impatient for a K-cup to finish brewing. There were also young people who felt intimidated by the whole at-home coffee-making experience. Some Gen Zers didn’t know how to brew coffee. Others might not be interested in making the investment in the equipment.
Smucker’s solution for those consumers came in July with liquid coffee concentrate under the Dunkin’ brand.
With Gen Z consumers — people born between 1997 and 2012 — responsible for about 40% of total U.S. consumers and a staggering $143 billion in buying power, food and beverage manufacturers like Smucker have little choice but to pay attention.
But new research from Ketchum could make decisions by CPG companies concerning this consumer group more complicated.
Even while social issues are top-of-mind, matters that more directly affect Gen Z consumers like value and taste reign supreme.
With many of these consumers in college or starting out on their own, coupled with a surge in prices that has lowered their buying power across the board, dollars matter more than ever. The opportunity to stretch their food spending further, or to save a few bucks to hang out with friends, may outweigh social issues they care about.
More than all other generations, 63% of Gen Zers feel a lot of pressure to change the world and are more likely to believe their food choices need to signal their health, values and political beliefs, the research found. This has contributed to 62% of Gen Z who think their eating pattern is wrong.
“Since early childhood, this generation has seen food politicized and been taught to choose food products related to values,” Melissa Kinch, president of Ketchum’s Food Consultancy, said in a statement. “They are exhausted and acting very differently from previous generations. ... The contrast between what they say is important and how they spend their money is eye-opening.”
Despite the pressures on them, Gen Zers are doing things their way. Ketchum noted 68% cook differently from their parents, and most eat differently. More than 50% of Gen Zers piece together snacks into a meal weekly. Gen Zers remain optimistic, and most want food to make them happy, relaxed, healthy and confident. They also turn to social media and online influencers for inspiration.
“If food companies and brands want to connect with Gen Z successfully, they should consider the impact of virtue signaling and tap into Gen Z’s quest for stability to show ways their products can bring joy,” Kinch said. She added that “scrolling through TikTok validates the innovation and creativity Gen Z brings to the category, and food companies who collaborate with them will increase brand love and build loyalty.”
The Ketchum research was conducted among 2,000 nationally representative U.S. children and adults ages 13+. The survey took place between April 7 and April 18.