When it comes to the food they buy and share, health, freshness, and convenience are among Gen Z’s priorities, and those preferences have persisted during the pandemic. This is according to a new white paper from the American Egg Board, which profiles the current food spending and consumption preferences of this practical, resilient, and tech-savvy generation.

The oldest Gen Z consumers are turning 23 this year — they’re starting to wrap up their undergraduate studies and head out into the world. As a generation that makes up more than a quarter of the U.S. population, their spending power will soon have a lot of influence over food marketing and product development. 

Here’s a closer look at Gen Z’s values and how those values shape their food choices and experiences.

Avoiding stores, switching brands, and stocking up

During lockdown, Gen Z followed suit with the rest of the population and increased their online spending — and 34% of them don’t plan on changing that behavior any time soon. More than half of Gen Z consumers were more likely to shop for food online than in grocery stores, compared to older generations. 

About one in four Gen Z shoppers found new brands as a result of their go-to brands being out of stock, and they now plan to continue purchasing from those brands. 

And as frozen food sales surged, Gen Z was among those stocking up on shelf-stable goods. Although Gen Z consumers weren’t frequent purchasers of frozen goods before, that changed during the pandemic, and they may continue to keep some of their newfound favorites in stock. 

Favoring comfort and convenience

Gen Z has been following the rest of the population and seeking out comfort foods during these challenging times. This includes nostalgic foods and flavors, indulgent baked goods, and better-for-you snacks.

Many consumers are finding their comfort foods in the snack aisle — 25% of consumers report snacking more than once a day, according to the American Egg Board’s white paper. And younger generations are more likely to be frequent snackers. They reach for small bites throughout the day in place of sitdown meals. Snacks are readily available and accessible, making them a good fit for Gen Z’s values.

When purchasing foods, convenience is of high importance to 40% of Gen Z consumers. Busy lives and budding careers have prompted them to choose foods they can easily prepare in the microwave or on the stove. While Gen Z seems to prefer eating out over cooking at home, that attitude may change as a result of recent restaurant closures and as the oldest members of this generation move into parenthood. 

Going beyond the label

Regardless of the food category, there are clear patterns in Gen Z’s likes and dislikes: 

  • Label claims like “natural” and “organic” are likely to appeal to them, and they prefer to avoid artificial additives and preservatives. 
  • Over half of Gen Z consumers said they value food that is healthy, fresh, and flavorful. And 41% would pay more for food products they consider to be healthier.
  • As more Gen Z consumers embrace flexitarian diets, they’re increasingly turning to plant-based foods. Almost 80% of Gen Z shoppers want to eat less meat, and they’re searching product labels for low-carb, high-protein alternatives.
  • Gen Z also favors brands they can trust to promote traceability, authenticity, sustainability, and socially-responsible manufacturing.
  • With almost half of their population listed as non-Caucasian, Gen Z is the most diverse generation yet. As such, they look for ethnic diversity in the foods they eat.

Sharing on social platforms

Gen Z makes up 75% of Instagram users. And not only do they like to share their own food experiences, but they use the platform to inform decisions on what and where they should eat. This is also a TikTok generation — over 40% of TikTok users are between the ages of 16 and 24, and the majority of them (90%) use the app multiple times a day.

Having grown up with an understanding of the functional and nutritional value of their food, Gen Z expects brands to listen and respond to their needs. And social media is a good place for brands to follow their lead. 

Reaching this generation of socially-minded foodies may require a new approach to marketing and product development. But when Gen Z likes something, they’re likely to create the next social media buzz that brings more customers to the brand.

To learn more about this unique generation’s eating preferences, download the full report