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Gen Z Goes A-List: A Generation in the Wings Takes Foodservice to New Heights

49% of Gen Zers surveyed visit restaurants two or more days per week.1

Foodservice is in flux, with young consumers eating into increasingly larger chunks of market share as they mature and their buying power grows. While millennials may be a bigger target thanks to their sheer numbers, Gen Z is hot on their heels, with its own set of expectations and preferences that operators should heed if they want to drive growth, both now and in the foreseeable future.

At about a quarter of the U.S. population, Gen Z is poised to overtake millennials as the largest generation.2 With the oldest just emerging into adulthood, Gen Zers are digital and social media natives with unprecedented access to information about food and cooking. As the most ethnically diverse generation in U.S. history,2 they are also exposed to a rich variety of culinary traditions and inspirations.

According to The Hartman Group, a market research and analysis consultancy, the more Gen Z matures, the greater their preference for bold and unfamiliar flavor profiles, particularly spicy flavors, local and premium fare, and a diversity of global cuisines.2

Gen Z’s taste for tech and the feast of information a tap or click away (more likely a tap, since they’ve been weaned on mobile devices) connects them to new horizons of culinary creativity and variety. What’s more, their insatiable appetite for social media engagement and shareworthy experiences makes them drivers of, and intuitively attuned to, foodservice trends such as online shopping and delivery that cater to their demand for convenience and near-instant gratification.

“As [potential] disruptors of the food and beverage industry raised in the era of social media, it’s probably no surprise that online shopping and delivery is going to play a major role in Gen Z’s future food-sourcing habits,” wrote Laurie Demeritt, CEO of The Hartman Group.2 “Online grocery and restaurant delivery will compete for many more of Gen Z’s at-home eating occasions relative to previous generations.”2

Coming-of-Age Consumers, Grab-and-Go Lifestyle

As inexperienced shoppers, many Gen Zers tend to be brand-agnostic, with the exception of a few iconic brands such as OREO.2 Expect foodservice operations to increasingly leverage ingredients with high brand recognition to establish trust when developing menu items tailored to Gen Z. A balance between bold and trusted could prove the recipe for success with this generation as with others.

The foodservice research firm Technomic found that about 40% of Gen Zers surveyed—more than previous generations—agree that they are increasingly opting to eat on the go, with a third claiming they often do so out of necessity.3

As a result, Technomic predicts that Gen Z will accelerate the on-demand foodservice trend and take it to the next level with new technologies, including drone delivery and Amazon Go–like cashless checkouts at full-service and limited-service restaurants. 3 It also seems practical for operators to expand their grab-and-go offerings to accommodate Gen Z’s on-the-go lifestyle.

In Sync with Tech, Piling on the Posts

In keeping with Gen Z’s natural affinity for digital-driven experiences, operators may want to step up their tech capabilities (think app-enabled ordering, online order tracking and self-service kiosks), which expedite the foodservice process.

Bear in mind also that more than any other generation, Gen Z is engrossed in social platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat that showcase visual engagement.4 “Big, bold visuals and quick, easy-to-navigate user interfaces will be an expectation for Gen Zers who are accustomed to flying through social media posts while quickly taking in need-to-know info,” reports Technomic.4“These design fundamentals should be a guiding force for operators and their partners as they create the user interfaces of tomorrow for websites, apps and ordering kiosks.”4

As the greatest users of foodservice,5 millennials and Gen Z present the highest stakes for operators hungry for growth in 2019 and over the long haul. And as the generation reporting the greatest increase in foodservice usage compared to two years ago,6 Gen Z’s reliance on foodservice seems likely to increase as the generation matures.

But because young consumers are most enthusiastic about off-premises services7 and more likely eat at home compared to others,5 restaurant operations will need to rise to the challenge of reaching and retaining Gen Z customers. With culinary and operational insight and ingenuity, operators can capitalize on the potential that Gen Z presents while avoiding the pitfalls.

1 Technomic, Generational Consumer Trend Report (2018), p. 44
2 Demeritt, Laurie, “Enter Gen Z: The new disruptors of food culture,” SmartBrief, Sept. 19, 2018
3 Technomic, p. 11
4 Technomic, p. 15
5 Technomic, p. 40
6 Technomic, p. 42
7 Technomic, p. 22

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