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Snack attack: Gen Z favors quick bites over big meals

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

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    When it comes to Gen Z's food preferences, meals are out and snacks are in. Here’s how brands can take advantage of this generation’s penchant for on-the-go grazing.


    Gen Z presents the packaged food category with an opportunity for business similar to a bus full of kids with empty stomachs and handfuls of cash pulling up to a Taco Bell

    When you consider that Gen Z, who has the most discretionary income of all generations, directs the bulk of their dollars toward food purchases (78 percent of Gen Zs spend the majority of their discretionary cash on food), the snack food business should prepare for some hungry new customers. Here are a few things to note about Gen Z and their non-traditional eating habits. 

    Don’t eat between meals, you’ll ruin your appetite.

    Sound familiar? Long the scourge of many a parent, snacks have gotten a bad rap since the first bag of chips made its way to the family’s pantry shelf. But no more, at least not for Gen Z. This group of young adults adores snacks. They consume ‘mini meals’ throughout the day, sometimes even (gasp) in lieu of the traditional three squares. 

    Grab and go (and go, and go...) 

    Gen Z is a busy bunch. From classes and coursework, to friends and jobs, or even an added side hustle, Zers have full lives. Sometimes, eating on the go, well, it’s just the only way to go for them. 

    Says Lilli, one Gen Z’er we spoke to, “I choose to eat more snacks than meals because it’s easier and faster, and the appeal of a good snack is more enticing than a 30-minute meal you might make for yourself.”

    Consider these stats from a UNiDAYS survey focused on the dining habits of 1,800 college students in the U.S.: 

    1. Only 5 percent of the respondents said they plan in advance what they’re going to eat 
    2. Almost all of the respondents (94 percent) said they have access to kitchens, but less than half of those that do (43 percent) said they prepare meals at home 
    3. A total of 14 percent of Gen Z students said they never cook at home

    That builds a pretty strong case for brands to take advantage of Gen Z’s spontaneity and spending habits, and offer compelling snacking options that they can graze on throughout the day. Which brings us to what Gen Z likes to eat. 

    Food for thought: Learn more about Gen Z's dining preferences in our report Gen  Z Insights: What restaurants need to know.

    Snacking categories just aren’t what they used to be.

    Gen Z believes that it’s possible to maintain a well-balanced diet by eating snacks—as long as the snacks are relatively nutritious and not the traditional, saturated-fat heavy or caloric-dense treats of yore. 

    Take college student Manny, for instance. He works at a kids summer camp, and says that eating snacks instead of a meal during his high-energy day is the only way he can keep up. “Just eating lunch won’t cut it. I try to eat snacks like fruit and granola bars that are healthy and can carry me through the day. I try to steer away from unhealthy snacks like chocolate and candy because they don’t fill me up. But when I forget to pack something and get home starving, I’ll eat anything. Especially Oreos.” 

    Said one Gen Z foodie to another: “Show me what you’re eating.”

    Attitudes and levels of sophistication toward snacks have changed too. I mean, what 18-year old refers to the flavor and texture profile of their snack choices? Gen Zers do. Case in point, as Zer Ethan says, “I like to snack on pita chips or pretzels because they fill me up and their crunchiness pairs well with a protein-filled dip, like a creamy, roasted-garlic hummus.”

    Who do we credit for this palate awareness? Uber-healthy parents? Nutrition classes in school? Probably neither, but more realistically, the internet and social media. 

    As the first generation to grow up in an always-on digital world, these kids and young adults have been exposed not only to the food the kids at their cafeteria lunch table were eating but also what their peers halfway around the world were consuming. “Because of the people I follow on Instagram, I see some of the most amazing and unique foods. Sometimes, I’ll go to local international stores to find them and when I do, I’ll buy them and post a live taste test on my IG fruit review account.” 

    Snacks for life.

    With their adventurous palates, lack of planning, but desire for health-conscious options on the go, food industry brands would be wise to present Gen Z with offers for new (even novel) snack products that meet their demands for portable, convenient, healthy and tasty options. Do so and you may gain a snacker for life. 

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