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Gen Z to drive produce growth

The lines around the much-discussed Gen Z are fuzzy. Their starting birth years are usually given at around 1995-96, although some sources put them in the early 2000s. The closing birth date is given variously between 2010 and 2012.

Probably the defining moment in Gen Z experience was the coming of the smartphone with the release of the Apple iPhone in January 2007.

“Gen Zers . . . are the first true digital natives,” observes Emily Ketchen, director of marketing, Americas, at tech firm HP. “Their top-three preferred devices are smartphones, TVs and laptops.”

Experts for the most part agree about Gen Z tastes in food. An article on the FoodNavigator website sums it up: “When they shop, millennials and gen Z shoppers are more likely than boomers to place value on nutrition and health information available; locally grown products; private label; customer services that feels personalized; a good selection of natural/organic products; easy, grab & go fresh prepared foods; an exciting environment to browse ideas/products; the provision of information beyond the package; self-checkout; recycling/sustainability practices; a good selection of ethnic or cultural foods; pay via smartphone options; online ordering for pickup and online ordering for delivery.”

“Global cuisines, plant-forward meals, sustainability, and value pricing all resonate with Gen Z consumers,” says an article in National Restaurant Reporter.

Some of these trends have multiple causes. Ethnically diverse foods have become much more available over recent decades. Furthermore, Generation Z represents the leading edge of the country’s changing racial and ethnic makeup. A bare majority (52%) are non-Hispanic white— significantly smaller than the share of Millennials who were non-Hispanic white in 2002 (61%). One-in-four Gen Zers are Hispanic, 14% are black, 6% are Asian and 5% are some other race or two or more races, reports the Pew Research Center

Alex Berkley, director of sales for Frieda’s, Inc., BB #:127169 Los Alamitos, CA, observes, “Gen Z is way more familiar with variety than previous generations, having seen items on social media and streaming services.”

Gen Zers also prefer—or at any rate say they prefer—fresh and wholesome foods.

One study conducted by Aramark, a foodservice company that serves over 3 million students in higher-education institutions annually, indicated that some 65 percent of Gen Zers want a more “plant-forward” diet, while 79 percent would eat meatless meals once or twice a week, either now or in the future. Unlike previous generations of young people, many of whom went through a vegetarian phase, Gen Z people are integrating vegetarian options into their diet without making a wholesale commitment to the vegetarian/vegan cause.

Consequently, Aramark has introduced a range of new dishes, such as “sweet potato smash (sweet potato, goat cheese, cranberry sauce and arugula on whole grain ciabatta); spanakopita quesadilla (a crispy tortilla filled with spinach and feta cheese spread and served with tzatziki sauce); roasted butternut tartine (open-faced sandwich with roasted butternut squash, arugula, ricotta cheese and a dijon maple drizzle); and All American Beyond Burger, a plant-based patty,” according to a report in Vending Times.

Another important theme in Gen Z dining is snacking. At school, members of this generation get an average of 25 minutes for lunch—which of course includes transit time from schoolroom to lunchroom.

By the end of the school day, these young people are hungry and rely on snacks to tide them over until dinner. “Add in the proliferation of after-school activities, which effect [sic] dinner times, and the snacking trend is not likely to wane anytime soon,” the National Restaurant Reporter article continues.

Many of these trends—diversity, novelty, haste, snacking—point toward a sunny future for Gen Z consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Indeed, a recent report by the NPD research group indicates that Gen Z will drive a 55 percent growth in the fresh fruit category over the next five years.

Richard Smoley, editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 11 books.