[Image of: RetailWire Logo and Tagline (for print)]

What will Gen Z eat?

May 22, 2014

Breakfast and fresh food that requires some preparation register high in preference rankings for the post-millennial generation, according to NPD research. The report, The Future of Eating: Who's Eating What in 2018?, stresses that today's youngsters will be tomorrow's trendsetters when it comes to eating styles. Furthermore, as a large percentage of Generation Z (those born in, or since 1990) are of Hispanic origin, their ethnicity will also have a significant impact on what consumers buy and eat.

Businessweek translated all this into an eye-catching headline — "Generation Salad." USA Today focused on breakfast, highlighting study findings that cooked breakfasts, as opposed to ready-to-eat cereals, could have a significant impact on grocery shelves in the future. Gen Z is "adopting" Millennials' food preferences while taking them "to an even greater degree," according to the article.

NPD has taken into account the ways in which age changes behavior as well as "population distribution and trend momentum." A shift in influence from older to younger people, although unsurprising in itself, will result in an inclination towards "more involvement, not necessarily more complexity, in preparing their food and meals, particularly at breakfast." Additives are another example of how "the younger generations want to have a say in the final output of their prepared foods."

Of Gen Z, Millennials and Hispanics, NPD analyst Darren Seifer advised that "this is a pivotal time for manufacturers and retailers to gain their favor as many of their habits are being formed now. Most are still at a life stage when their behaviors are flexible and they are receptive."

Elsewhere, Businessweek referenced the Intelligence Group's conclusions that Millennials are frugal, making only "necessary" purchases therefore needing different marketing approaches. If Gen Z follows this pattern as well, the challenge of enticing them will be even more challenging.

Discussion Questions:

How may the coming of age of Gen Z change the fresh food opportunity? What other changes will it bring for grocers? What steps should grocers be taking to prepare for Gen Z?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

How reliable are predictions about generational shopping patterns?


With demand rising for healthy meal options, grocers have an opportunity to capture younger customers' loyalty and frequency by offering up meal options. Convenience and choice are key, and the competitive landscape in QSR currently leaves a lot of room for grocers to gain traction with Gen Z.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Matt Schmitt, President, Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer, Reflect

Notwithstanding the generational Alphabet Soup and blurred age categories, the key for me is the absolute need to reduce complexity while increasing involvement for a meal that mom always said was the most important meal of the day.

For grocers catering to Gen Z et al, it means breakfast isn't restricted to the cereal aisles of the center store. There are/will be opportunities to enhance the shopping and eating experience by offering ideas and pictures of the easy possibilities you can create in the kitchen at breakfast time. It means providing personalized offers based on the new possibilities and not only on historical purchases. It means suggestions go beyond items and go to the meal itself, while still giving the shopper the freedom to "mix and match" to their own taste. On the supply chain side, this will drive more locally sourced fresh foods!

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Mohamed Amer, Global Head of Strategic Communications, Consumer Industries, SAP

As a parent of Z's, I hope I can take some credit for instilling in my children the values that prioritize fresh over processed. That may not be what CPG wants to hear. But I was raised on a diet of almost nothing fresh, thanks to a working mom who couldn't cook if it wasn't microwaveable or a casserole that started in a box. And my current lifestyle reflects trying to make up for that, to some degree.

They say that one generation's habits are a reaction to the previous generation's experience. Maybe this reflects that rule of thumb. Or it may be that all of this technology is starting to pay off in more leisure time - Gen Z feels like they have the time to do it "fresh," instead of rushing off to work like previous generations? That would be nice. And if so, then an article I saw go by yesterday may also be related, where it talked about how "Prepare to eat" meals offered in grocery stores (where some preparation is required, whether baking or heating, or even some minimal mixing of ingredients) are competing with restaurant business.

For the grocery business, I guess the assumption is, some people are not willing to trade off freshness in response to being time starved. That means getting clever with semi-prepared or almost-finished meals and the like.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Nikki Baird, Managing Partner, RSR Research

Every day we read about the toxic food supply in the U.S. As Michael Pollen says, if it's prepared in the kitchen, it is infinitely healthier than if it is prepared by a corporation. Gen Z and Millennials believe this. My baby boomer generation believes quite the opposite.

I believe this puts traditional supermarkets in a real bind. Their business model is not geared to selling healthy food. It is geared to distributing products from those corporate kitchens. Fresh food means more labor, time and attention. I am not sure the grocer is truly ready for that.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Gene Detroyer, Professor, Independent

This is the generation that grew up watching cooking shows. The older segment of this generation has enjoyed access to a wide variety of ethnic foods and is more open to culinary adventures than their parents. Where I started cooking by making brownies, my kids started by making General Tso's chicken.

Look for these consumers to rely less on the center of the store, and more on the periphery.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Cathy Hotka, Principal, Cathy Hotka & Associates

Food is becoming more "interesting" these days with the explosive growth of media outlets such as "Food Network," etc. Home preparation may indeed be making somewhat of a comeback, however, I don't believe this is limited to Gen Zers. I see virtually all age demographics jumping on the "Foodie" bandwagon. Just because we Boomers ate fast and junk food most of our lives doesn't preclude us from "seeing the light" and changing our ways for the better!

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Ralph Jacobson, Global Retail Industry Analytics Marketing Executive, IBM

I really find the results of this survey counterintuitive. I have an admittedly small sample size, but I don't see a trend to meals that require more preparation among the young people I know. If anything it is just the opposite, with young people grabbing what they can on their way to the next part time job or gathering with their friends. There are some fortunate ones who tend to eat out a lot more than I remember. At the other extreme, since packaging is such a large cost factor, some people are putting in more preparation time for economic reasons.

So I see a significant bifurcation in the food market just as we have seen in general retail. At one end you will continue to see people buying for convenience, but at the other you will see more natural purchases because they're not only healthy choices, but they also make economic sense. Preparing raw vegetables (i.e. boiling some water) is something even I can do.

Bill Bittner, Principal, BWH Consulting

What I have seen with Millennials on down is that cooking is cool! Where does this come from?

First off, I think their pallets are broader due to so much more exposure. They also are children of recession where their parents used to enjoy great meals out and are now trying to replicate at home. And last but not least, the nutritionists are finally winning the war. (This said for my sister the "food nazi" who pushed for health food in vending machines at schools until it happened.)

Kids today are asked to have "healthy snacks." Team moms are boo-ed when they bring chips and cookies to game days. These young people are starting off right and being encouraged in the right direction. But someone has to make it fun, tasty, colorful and a great experience, and that's my 2 cents.

Lee Kent, Sharing Insights for Success in Retail, YourRetailAuthority

If my sons are any indication, Gen Z is gravitating and will continue to gravitate to eating fresh foods, especially produce. They even asked to take their lunch to school because the cafeteria didn't offer anything healthy. One of my son's biggest complaints about his college's food offerings is their lack of vegetable selections. "I don't want to eat only salads," he would say. Friends often cook meals for each other and this is a big part of their socializing.

They are hungry for easy to follow recipes and meal ideas. Anything that could help them prepare a home-cooked meal with ease would be helpful. Items like pre-cut, seasoned and ready-to-cook vegetables, or seasoned or marinated meats. Having recipe cards in the stores with readily available ingredients that they could quickly grab would be welcomed. They also enjoy fresh baked breads, especially those you finish baking at home. They are still pressed for time like most of us, so anything that can streamline the process of cooking a meal would be beneficial.

George-Marie Glover, Communications Specialist, RetailRetell.com

In the minds of Gen Z folks, the food that previous generations eat is uninspiring to the foods that Gen Z folks see on TV or on their "cool" gadgets.

They could eat what their parents and older siblings eat, but it wouldn't be remembered at all. Gen Z appetites demand fun as they perceive it and that will increasingly expect more food preparation not just milk and cereal. This is a challenge for McDonald's as well as grocers.

To prepare, grocers should develop more appeal for the world of these youngsters, but not overlook whoever shops at the grocer's store. Independent of Gen Z's onslaught, grocery stores should be more fun.

Gene Hoffman, President/CEO, Corporate Strategies International

All I can say is it's going to be complicated for marketers. Any generation whose list of top "fresh foods" includes apples and bananas, plus bacon and hot dogs, is not easily understood.

[Image of: View Staff button]
Al McClain, CEO, Founder, RetailWire.com

Have you seen the new movie, "Chef?" Me either. But from the reviews, talk show clips, and interviews I've seen - especially the Carson Daly interview of Roy Choi (primary cooking consultant and food truck legend for the movie), it occurs to me that the burgeoning food truck phenomenon is affecting Gen Z's tastes as much as anything else. And, the best ones feature only fresh ingredients. Cogitate on that. Food trucks are mobile culinary laboratories and taste-training facilities.

Additionally, food tastes and practices begin at home. I was intrigued by the "finding" that "as a large percentage of Generation Z are of Hispanic origin, their ethnicity will also have a significant impact on what consumers buy and eat." News flash: Hispanic families teach their children how to cook and how to appreciate home-prepared meals. While not Hispanic, but while following my father's example, I taught our kids - a boy and a girl - how to cook as they were growing up. Both are excellent cooks today. Better than me in fact. And I'm pretty damned good.

In response to the topic, and as a grocery veteran, I recommend that supermarkets do the same as they always have: Follow the trend. Grocery stores are not for setting trends, or leading trends, or teaching customers about how they should shop and eat. Instead, they must keep their collective ears to ground and provide "JIT" (just in time) provisions to their customers. Put simply, that's their only job.

M. Jericho Banks PhD, President, CEO, Forensic Marketing LLC

Search RetailWire
Follow Us...
[Image of:  Twitter Icon] [Image of:  Facebook Icon] [Image of:  LinkedIn Icon] [Image of:  RSS Icon]

Getting Started video!

View this quick tutorial and learn all the essentials...

RetailWire Newsletters