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Gen Z in 2019: What they ate and where they shopped

by Stephanie H.
    Download the report: Gen Z spending habits before and during COVID-19

    Get set for the back-to-campus rush

    As Gen Z prepare to head back to university, there’s a huge opportunity for brands to seize.Students will be stocking up on everything they need to hit the...

    Before this decade wraps and we move onto the next, we asked Gen Z to tell us about where they ate and how they shopped in 2019. Here’s what they said.

    Whether it was lip synching with their besties in a less-than-60-second TikTok video or lounging by the Taco Bell Hotel, Gen Z spent 2019 making connections with each other—and with brands. 

    We asked Gen Z to tell us about the food they ate and the things they bought over the past 12 months. Here’s what they had to say. 

    Where and how Gen Z ate in 2019

    On the matter of grabbing a quick bite, Gen Z likes it convenient (i.e. online ordering) and cheap. They also like options that are fresh and meat-free. With the launch of Impossible Burger on many a quick-service restaurant menu this past year, Gen Z is keen for plant-based food. So much so, that more than half of the U.S. Gen Z population consumes plant-based meat at least once a month

    That Zers choose restaurants that align with their values—ingredients that, when possible, are locally sourced, organic and sustainable—should surprise no one, really. This generation counts on transparency of the entire supply chain—from what’s in their order and where it came from, to the treatment of the employees in the fields and factories, to the employees at the registers and drive-thru windows. 

    Gen Z also doesn’t mind getting off the couch and into restaurants. In fact, The NPD Group found that Gen Z made 14.6 billion restaurant visits in 2018 and represent 25% of total foodservice traffic. With an estimated spending power of $143 billion, restaurants would be wise to start building affinity with Zers now. Creating solid loyalty programs, in addition to beefing up mobile apps and personalized content to catch the attention and loyalty of this hungry and principled generation is the way to go.

    Don’t take our word for it, though. Let’s hear about about Gen Z’s restaurant preferences straight from Gen Z themselves. 

    My favorite fast-food restaurants are Moes, Chipotle, Chick-fil-A, Taco Bell and Bojangles. For some reason, I like to order online only from Moes.

    - Audrey 


    I'm a vegetarian, so if I need something quick, I go to less mainstream places that have more meat-free options like Juice vibes, Tama tea, the salad bar at Whole Foods, Tropical Smoothie, b. Good, and diced.

    - Libby


    I like Chipotle, McDonalds and Cookout. I’m usually at one of those places more than once a month. I prefer to drive thru because I don’t have to worry about putting decent clothes on to walk in.

    - Manny


    I prefer eating at restaurants that incorporate freshness, like Chiptotle which I also like because it’s not too expensive.

    - Lilli 


    I prefer to eat at fast-food restaurants because they’re quick. I like Chick-fil-A the most and order online because it’s quick and easy.

    - Haley 


    Where and how Gen Z shopped in 2019

    This is the generation that has never known a world without the internet. It may feel counterintuitive, but as connected as Zers are, they also equally like to disconnect. According to a recent A.T. Kearney survey, Gen Z prefers to shop in brick-and-mortar stores and surprisingly, they do so for mental health reasons. More than half of the survey respondents said shopping in stores allows them to disconnect from social media and the digital world. 

    Zers taking a break from social media and the digital world to exist in the actual, physical world squares with a couple retail trends we’ve seen brands leverage in the past year: 

    Merging on- and off-line worlds for an omnichannel experience. Along with choice, speed and convenience, Zers want options for when, where and how they shop. For some brands, that means buy online pick up in store (BOPIS). It’s a win-win for both the Z shopper and brands that can equate to higher conversions and sales

    Creating shop-in-shop collabs. In another move toward omnichannel experiences, digital-only brands are showing up in brick-and-mortars for seasonal and/or limited engagements. Birchbox and Walgreens is one such example. The traditionally online-only beauty box subscription service is literally popping up in 500 Walgreens across the country, for a limited run, just in time for the holidays. Digital brands should consider their own mashup with a complimentary and logical brick-and-mortar partner to take advantage of Gen Z’s penchant for wanting the best of both on- and off-line worlds, with one enhanced by the other.  

    Here’s what our Zers had to say about their retail habits in 2019:

    I prefer to shop in store, so I know I like how I look in the clothes and can see how it feels and fits.  But, I do shop online a bit too.

    - Libby 


    I like to shop both online and in the store. I like to go to the mall and buy things and get out of the house. 

    - Manny 


    Sometimes I order secondhand things online for price and environmental reasons. But having things delivered is super convenient. That’s why with the other brands I like (Urban Outfitters and Asos), I exclusively ordered online and had it delivered. There are more options that way and it’s easier than scheduling a trip to a store or the mall.

    - Jonathan 


    I shopped a lot online. I admit I shopped at a lot of stores on Instagram that popped up on my Instagram feed. I love getting things in the mail all neatly packaged.

    - Haley 


    Where Gen Z is, is where brands should be

    In 2019, Gen Z was all about being themselves. They spent the year defying long-held beliefs and definitions about race and gender, and they embraced fluidity that transcends binary distinctions. Instead of looking for brands to define them, Gen Z sought out products and services that augmented their current identities

    As we mark the end of this decade and launch into a new one soon, we expect more of the same from Gen Z: a desire for authenticity, fairness, and inclusiveness. In an upcoming post in January we’ll talk about the Zer in 2020—who they are and where they’re headed—and offer brands information that will help you join Zs their journey into 2020. 


      Download the report: Gen Z spending habits before and during COVID-19


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      Think digital marketing is all it takes to reach Gen Z? Think again. Download the research report here.