Generation Z (those born between roughly 1995 and 2010) are now the majority of students on campus, and they are as hungry for knowledge as they are for food—and more serious about where it comes from and how it is served. While Gen Z shares many food preferences with Millennials, such as expectations for high-quality and sustainable products, this new demographic cohort has significantly divergent tastes from generations past.
To keep higher education leaders up to speed on evolving tastes, this article unpacks the food industry trends that inform Gen Z tastes. Read on to learn four food preferences common among Gen Z—and how food providers are evolving to meet them.
Preference 1: It’s all about the veggies
It takes little cajoling to get Gen Z to eat their greens. The number of Gen Z students who are vegetarian or vegan already is approaching the percentage seen among Millennials (12%) and is expected to rise over the next ten years. While many cite improved health as a factor in foregoing meat, a growing number indicate ethical concerns as their top reason for embracing plant-based diets. Even non-vegetarians from Gen Z expect vegetarian options for every meal, and are more likely to prefer dishes where the entree is veggie-forward or veggie-centric than in the past. Food producers are therefore experimenting with new ways of crafting and marketing meals with fruits and vegetables at their core, such as the recently viral Impossible Burger.
Preference 2: Convenience is king
Gen Z has little time on their hands for cooking—or eating. Gen Z are nearly 30% more likely to consume frozen and microwaveable meals than Millennials and have adopted meal-kit and prepared food options without hesitation. However, frozen food manufacturers are transforming their offerings with better ingredients and health-centric marketing in response to the growing preference for healthy and organic food.
Gen Z also loves to snack, with a preference for simple and portable products. Demand for fruit, yogurt, and nut offerings is expected to outpace all other snacks over the coming decade.
Preference 3: Authenticity and experience are as important as ingredients and taste
Gen Z grew up surrounded by diverse food options from across the globe and have a wider palette than previous generations. However, ethnic cuisine is not just food for them—it is an experience. Gen Z prefers eating international options in settings that reflect the culture, cooked by chefs either from the region or trained in authentic techniques. That’s leading industry experts to recommend stores and restaurants invest in aesthetics as much as ingredients, helping food providers tell their stories and connect with Gen Z consumers on an emotional level.
Preference 4: Phones are a must at the dinner table
For Gen Z, food is not just about nutrients—its also part of their personal brand. That means that whether they cook at home or go out to a restaurant, meals need to be recorded, enhanced, and disseminated to friends and followers using technology. While using Instagram and blogs to “capture” food was piloted by Millennials, it is the norm for Gen Z. Food entrepreneurs are therefore experimenting with mobile apps and digital platforms that help people engage with their food, as well as speed up ordering and delivery processes.