I’ve been to a number of conferences over the past year and inevitably, the agenda includes at least one breakout about “Millennials”. There’s always an audible groan as attendees agree that they have “heard enough about this generation of experience-seeking, non-committal, entitled kids!”. (I should mention here that I am considered a Millennial myself…) Anyway, it’s time for Gen-Z.
A Gen-Z panel at this year’s IFMA COEX opened up about their preferences and their opinions on what steers their decisions when it comes to food. And they have a lot of them. From what I observed, this panel was articulate about the macro social issues that influence the way they think about what—and how—they eat. Simultaneously, they were practical about how their current stage of development impacts how that plays out in “real life”.
WHY IT’S HAPPENING
Now the single largest single population segment1, Gen-Z makes up 26% of the total media audience and with key differences in values and preferences, they pose an interesting challenge for brands. Encompassing those born between 1997 and 2015, this generation has serious spending power: Some through personal wealth and others through “pester power”.
As this generation approaches adulthood, early studies are homing in on what shapes their values and how that is being played out with purchases – whether of products or experiences. A few key things to consider when it comes to the food industry in particular:
Digital from DOB. This is the first generation that has truly grown up with cell phones—their parents are connected, and they access them at a much younger age. The panelists all voiced their use of their smartphone as a way to discover (Instagram), vet (Yelp), obtain (online ordering) and ultimately capture their unique experience. It’s worth noting that their time is spent on mobile devices rather than a PC—in fact, this generation spends an average of 8 minutes a day online via PC as compared to the 1+ hour of older generations1.
Socializing. What may seem in contrast to the above point, Gen-Z values “hanging out and socializing” as a top priority along with ordering shareable items when it comes to their preferred dining experience2. You may have heard rumblings of this generation noting higher levels of loneliness, with less human-to-human, authentic interactions. So it’s not surprising that Gen-Z seeks interaction with family and friends when it comes to dining. Keep this in mind as your brand thinks about how to facilitate relationship-building experiences and environments for Gen-Z.
WHAT WE THINK
This generation is different—brands and experiences in the food space are going to have to understand their expectations in a more holistic way.
We know that Gen-Z is outpacing Millennials in their occasions per week at top chains in the US3, and it’s up to us to keep a two-way conversation going with this group to truly understand them. As a more independent and entrepreneurial generation, it’s going to be more critical than ever to understand both what the data says about what matters to them and what resonates with them as individuals. Face-value of where, when and how they are dining are likely to line up with values that occasionally surprise us based on past generations.
The largest qualitative and quantitative study to date was completed by KANTAR in 2017 and explored this generation’s attitudes and behaviors4. When it comes to media recommendations, “innovative formats” are cited as a way to win with this generation. In terms of creative recommendations, “expect a challenge”, “be interactive” and “push the aesthetic” are the headliners—which captures the pace and outside-the-box thinking that is going to be required to really understand and resonate with Gen-Z.
Full of nuances like the simple examples above, Gen-Z is discerning and likely going to be a challenge as marketers attempt to understand this ever-changing consumer.
 “Move over millennials, Gen-Z now the largest single population segment.” Sterling, Greg. Marketing Land. 17 June 2017.
 “The Gen-Z Selfie.” Technomic, courtesy of SmartSupport. June 2016.
 “Shifting Market Dynamics.” 2018 COEX, courtesy of Foodable Labs.
 “How to market effectively to Centennials.” Inskip, Mark. WARC Best Practices. July 2016.