During the past 18 months, Gen Z has been on a trip to Flavortown – in their own kitchens. As they re-enter the physical world, they're looking forward to going back to their favorite restaurants, but many have expanded their palettes and have completely redefined their relationship to food. Read on to find out what this means and how their tastes have evolved.
To pass the time and dull the ache of milestones missed during the pandemic, many Zers found comfort in food—whether that was making it, eating it, photographing it, or exploring entirely new cuisines. Now, as Gen Z begins to re-enter the world and socialize, it appears that the most direct route to their wallet is through their mouth. In their spring 2021 survey of Gen Z, Piper Sandler found that food returns as teens’ number-one wallet priority up 23% from 21% in Fall 2020 and only slightly down from 25% over the past year.
"Food and hospitality brands have to innovate to resonate. Gen Z patterns of behaviour are changing retail forever, and as a consequence, we are now seeing the rise of a new world order of brands - both icons and start-ups, who are thriving as they proactively and symbiotically evolve to capture this market." CEO UNiDAYS Josh Rathour
As Gen Z’s culinary world expands beyond their home kitchen, what food trends and flavors will stick around and cement themselves as preferences, not just passing fancies? Gen Z Insights surveyed several UNiDAYS app users to get their thoughts on the matter.
Throughout the pandemic, but especially during the isolating shelter-in-place days, social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram made it easy to find new and exotic recipes to try, like Lilli, a 20 year-old UNiDAYS app user.
“At the beginning of lockdown, I ate a lot of the usual comfort foods like cookies, mac-and-cheese and pizza. After a while, I burnt out on that and needed something new to make - and eat,”
She explains, “I love to bake and like the rest of the planet, I baked a ton of bread; moved on to pie and then when I’d mastered that, I looked to Asian cuisines. That’s when I fell in love with the flavor of umami and making bao,”
Since birth, Zers have been able to see what the world eats and as such, Gen Z considers themselves ‘foodies.’ During COVID, with the world at their fingertips but nowhere to go, preparing foods from around the globe provided Gen Z a way to ‘travel’ without leaving home. Now, as travel restrictions are lifted, when considering future trips to Europe, 75% of Gen Z poll respondents said that trying locally-produced food and drinks is their top priority.
For Gen Z that lived in bigger cities, pre-pandemic, popular dishes like sushi, pho, and samosas were easy to find and enjoy, making them almost de facto comfort foods. “Before I had to move back home from my brief college-dorm experience, I was able to find most any kind of food I wanted, right outside my door. I have missed that being back at home,” says Sam, a 19-year-old rising college sophomore.
Just as in fashion collabs, food mashups provide a fun and appealing way to catch the attention of Gen Z. Take familiar flavors like birthday cake, S’mores or brownies and cross it with the exotic spiciness of ginger or macaroni and cheese flavored with kimchi or a mole sauce, and you get the idea. Or, follow the lead of Gen Zers themselves on TIkTok and pair mustard with watermelon.
Brands score extra points when combining the old with the new. According to a late 2020 food trends survey, one in two consumers globally say that they put more trust into a new brand if it collaborates with one that they already know.
No matter what country Gen Z is in, they don’t have to travel far for food steeped in tradition, history and authenticity. Within the US, for example, the rise of Black foodways are becoming more popular—and celebrated.
Gen Z values authenticity in all matters and the food they consume is no exception. As aspiring Gen Z chef Fiona puts it, “I want to eat food that has been prepared in the way the culture intended it, not how it may have been co-opted by others. As I explore original foods from the African diaspora, I want to respect the ingredients and the preparation methods.”
Who knew, but the dessert of Gen Z’s grandparents—the flaming banana dessert served off a cart—may have been their first foray into multi-sensory food. It had it all: presentation, texture and sound. Roughly a decade later, more grownup Gen Z is still into food that delivers a wow factor in appearance and in taste. This kind of culinary flex just might be the biggest and longest-lasting food trend to come out of the pandemic (and stick around). Dare we say more here than Dalgona coffee, pancake cereal or the latest, Oreo sushi?
As Gen Z gets on with their lives post-pandemic (fingers crossed), food will continue to play a major role providing them both comfort and sustenance. For food and dining brands ready to deliver on a fun and authentic experience, this presents an opportunity to catch the eye of Gen Z consumers now and well after the pandemic.
If you want to reach Gen Z, the UNiDAYS platform can help with the offers they want for in-store and online discounts, including unique offers you create. Getting started is easy. Just create an account, set up your brand page, post offers and giveaways, and use our built-in reporting tools to optimize your campaigns.
And if you’re not ready for that, no problem. You can continue learning more about this important audience by checking out our Gen Z Marketing Playbook for insights about how your brand can adapt to align with Gen Z values.
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