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Generation Z’s Influence Over The Food Industry

By the end of 2019, the oldest Generation Z consumers will be 22-years-old. Though most of our attention is placed on appealing to Millennials, it looks like the industry will have to shift its focus in the upcoming years. Gen Z (born between 1997 and 2015) is the newest generation, already making up 10% of total food traffic. In 2018 alone, Gen Z’s made 14.6 billion restaurant visits, and this is just the beginning. But what does this mean for the food industry?

With the introduction of this generational group, industry leaders are noticing the differences between Gen Z and its predecessors, Millennials and Baby Boomers. But, this isn’t to say Millennials and Gen Zs don’t share similarities. The NDP Group states that like Millennials, Gen Zs,

“demand freshness, purity, and authenticity in the products they use….Gen Z consumers say clean eating improves their quality of life, and fresh foods play a large role in this lifestyle. They’re also following through with this sentiment in their actions – Gen Z accounts for some of the heaviest use of organic and non-GMO foods.”

Millennials also share these values, however, not at the same intensity as Gen Z. This generation has grown up with the focus being on flavor and functionality rather than brand. The idea of flavor over food is why fast-food chains such as McDonald’s and Burger King are pushing more bacon in their items. Bacon across the United States has grown by 5% over the last ten years with over 68% of fast-food menus offering it. This is a popular tactic used by the fast-food industry to lure in customers without having to make a real change to menus. Though bacon is working to adding more flavor, the problem comes when appealing to Gen Zs. As this generation is focused on fresh, pure, and authentic food, how will the fast-food industry survive in the upcoming years? Because bacon isn’t going to fool them.

With the effect of social media, we’re witnessing Gen Z influence individuals on a global scale through their rainbow-colored breakfast bowls and sweet potato fries. Through social media, we’re seeing the food trends in upcoming years. Hashtags such as “plant-based” and “vegan” are being used more than ever, shifting the tastes and needs of consumers. Food is no longer just for fuel; it now represents a culture and a socio-economic standard for self-expression. With that being said, it’s clear Gen Zs are creating a set of values deciding the market trends. How Gen Z feels about their food will automatically translate to the grocery shelves. Plant-based foods sales in 2018 estimated 3.7 billion dollars in the United States. Baby boomers may love their steak and eggs, but Gen Zs are looking for meat-alternatives to satisfy their hunger.

Almost half (44 percent) of Gen Z believe that being vegan is cooler than smoking. In turn, a quarter of individuals who have become vegan are between 18-24 years of age. These numbers will continue to grow as more Gen Z consumers focus on cutting their consumption of meat. With the help of social media, young adults are more social responsible and conscious of the environment and health. They not only want transparency with what they’re eating, but they’re also concerned about the ethics of their food. The image of vegetarianism and veganism is undergoing a radical shift, as 40% of all vegans will be Gen Zs by 2020. In other words, Gen Z is taking an unconscious stand, changing the way people and the industry looks at food.

Though in the long run, a healthy lifestyle will benefit Gen Zs, it won’t benefit the fast-food industry. In order to keep up with Gen Z, it’s crucial the industry meets them halfway. Adding more bacon or updating the Pizza POS system for fast-delivery may gain the attention of some people, but it’ll still miss this core market. Baby boomers aren’t going to be the primary customer is five years time. As more Gen Zs jump on the health-lifestyle and vegan train, the food industry, in particular fast-food, will have to mold to the demanding trends of meat-alternative sources. The great news is fast-food outlets are jumping to action. Major food chains are incorporating meat-alternatives burgers and items to their menu. Burgers such as the Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger have gained international attention for their meat-like taste and texture. Not only that, Gen Zs have given them the stamp of approval as these burgers prove to help the planet. Remember, a burger for Gen Zs isn’t just a patty. They want to know the story behind it and how their money can not only feed themselves but can get the likes on Instagram and the sensation of changing the world for the better.

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