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Gen Z’s tastes in food

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 feel personalized; a good selection of natural/organic products; easy, grab-and-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.

Melinda Goodman, president of FullTilt Marketing, BB #:354985 based in Hubertus, WI, agrees. “I think the most important reality of the Gen Z lifestyle in fresh produce is an emphasis on health. Many Gen Zers already understand the value of fresh produce and have grown up with healthy school snacks, lunches, and salad bars and have been encouraged to try a variety of fresh produce.

“Their focus on plant-based diets and interest in sustainable and natural foods, and real people, is a win for fresh produce producers. Why? Because fresh produce is more similar at harvest and consumption than any other food product,” she explains.

“Consumers can see and understand the real, whole food they’re eating, where it comes from, and what it is in its natural form,” Goodman adds, noting Gen Z’s expanded worldview, coming from more diverse ethnic or immigrant backgrounds than previous generations, which also influences eating habits, especially for fresh produce.

“Gen Z grew up in homes with year-round access to a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables,” says Karen Nardozza, president and CEO of Moxxy Marketing BB #:341508 in Salinas, CA.

“Their idealism and environmental awareness speaks to a continued increase in demand for organics and sustainable growing practices. Whether they will be willing to pay the higher prices required for this sort of production remains to be seen.”

Some of these trends have multiple causes.

Ethnically diverse foods have become much more available over recent decades, but Gen Z is also the most ethnically diverse generation in American history: 55 percent Caucasian, 24 percent Hispanic, 14 percent African American, 4 percent Asian, and 4 percent mixed or other races, according to the Denver South Economic Development Partnership.

In terms of produce, Berkley observes, “Gen Z is way more familiar with variety than previous generations, having seen items on social media and streaming services. I’m not sure they’re as aware of the environmental impact food has on the planet; however, they do not want to contribute waste.”

A study conducted by Aramark, the 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. (Perhaps this fact should be included among the generation’s many social stressors.)

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

This is a multi-part feature adapted from the cover story of the September/October issue of Produce Blueprints magazine.

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.