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Gen Z Food Preferences

gen z food trends

This up-and-coming generation favors fresh, sustainable, new, and innovative.

Generation ZGeneration Z wants it all. Delicious food, exciting flavors, any time, anywhere. And why wouldn’t they? Those born in 1993 and later are in their young 20s, and they’re a product of a fast-paced world. They’re always active, with instant access to the world through their monitors, their tablets, their smartphones, or even their watches—the latest (and literal) around-the-clock connection. And they have nearly $250 billion in spending power, according to Technomic Inc., so it’s worth your time to pursue them with appealing flavors and styles they crave.

It starts by knowing your audience. They’re young … age 24 and younger. They’re plugged in … learning about you or talking about your food in online social circles. They’re diverse … the most-diverse of all the generations with backgrounds that have exposed them to a variety of cuisines and cultures. They have high expectations … they’ve grown up with cooking shows on TV, so they’ve been encouraged to experiment. Using this as a backdrop, here are some ways to satisfy Gen Z.

5 Food Trends That Appeal to Gen Z

1) Rely on Basics, Then Add Variety

Young people, like people of all ages, enjoy burgers, pizza, chicken, sandwiches, salad, and fruit. And the younger they are, the more simple they like it, according to restaurant-hospitality.com. From middle school and beyond, their tastes broaden to include more flavors, combinations, and global variety. If your kitchen isn’t ready to roll out a lineup of Middle Eastern or Guatemalan specialties, don’t despair. You can still appeal to their flavor preferences with customizable fruit and vegetable smoothies, Mexican foods, pasta dishes, and Asian cuisine—all perfect for fresh, fast, made-from-scratch, customizable twists on what you already serve.

2) Try Something New and Unique

More than half of Gen Z diners say they enjoy trying different foods. Technomic says older Gen Z diners in particular show a willingness to visit restaurants that feature innovative flavors or ingredients. Flavor & The Menu cites yuzu, tamarind, lemongrass, and vinegar as flavors that are on the rise and expected to gain in popularity among Gen Z, so find ways to add memorable and unique flavors to punch up your menu.

An August survey by food-management.com asked college and university foodservice professionals about Gen Z appetites, and they found a flair for adventure. Those tasked with feeding Gen Z on campus cited these preferences:

  • Breakfast comfort foods from a wide range of ethnicities and available all day.
  • More authentic and varied global offerings, such as Mediterranean, Southeast  Asian, Korean, and Middle Eastern.
  • Hot, spicy, and more adventurous flavors.
  • Plant-based menus.

3) Don’t Shun the Classics

If new and unique don’t fit your operation, you can always call on time-tested favorites. Gen Z diners may be young, but their palates already have a taste for nostalgia. FONA International, a company that specializes in sweet and savory flavors for the food and beverage industry, says leading flavors among young people include berry, citrus fruit, chocolate, vanilla, and marshmallow. Cheesy and sour flavors also hold appeal.

4) Make the Menu Speak Their Language

Menu callouts such as “natural,” “organic,” and “sustainable” resonate with Gen Z more than any other generation, according to Flavor & The Menu’s Generational Flavors report. Technomic Inc.’s Generation Consumer Trend Report backs this up, pointing out that restaurants able to use menu words such as local, authentic, farm-raised, organic, and free-range, attract Gen Z customers willing to pay more for products that support social responsibility.

5) Think About Drinks

Because Gen Z diners enjoy social experiences, it pays to think like Starbucks. Coffee shops provide customizable, gourmet coffees, lattes, frappuccinos, teas, smoothies, as well as pastries and grab-and-go snacks. For a generation mostly too young to drink adult beverages, coffee shops provide a sophisticated, inviting atmosphere (and don’t forget Wi-Fi access).

Speaking of beverages, Gen Z likes soda and will order it frequently, but this generation also is more likely than any of the others to order lemonade, bottled water, fruit juice, or smoothies, so it helps to highlight these profit-generating options.