By Chris Startt, Director of foodservice insights, The Coca-Cola Company
Millennials (people born between 1977 and 2000) and Generation Z (those born after 2000) play an important role in today’s foodservice industry. Accounting for more than one-quarter of the U.S. population, millennials have the highest median income of any generation and are the most willing to treat themselves to a nice meal.
Gen Z, on the other hand, will account for 40 percent of the global population by 2020, according to Datassential. Research shows that Gen Zers are more careful about how much they spend at restaurants, but they, along with millennials, are increasing their away-from-home eating frequency, and both visit fast casual restaurants more often than older generations. Given these factors, millennial and Gen Z consumers are viable growth targets for restaurants. Here are three ways foodservice operators can engage with these diners.
For millennials, food is more than just “something to eat”– it’s an experience. In fact, 76 percent agree that “satisfying hunger for new experiences is important.” Millennials are more adventurous with food and more open to diverse flavors than other generations. They embrace multiculturalism, seeking out foods that are different, ethnic and artisanal. Seventy-two percent of millennials say they are always looking for cultural experiences and influences to broaden their horizons, and according to Datassential, 52 percent eat an unfamiliar dish at restaurants at least once a month. Variety and flavor innovation, therefore, are key with these consumers.
Gen Z diners prefer to stick with their favorite restaurants but still value variety. With nearly half of this generation being multicultural, Gen Z is driving the growth of “ethnic” cuisine – but to them, it’s just “cuisine.” In fact, according to Datassential, Gen Z is beginning to move beyond specific types of cuisine and is focusing on individual dishes; for example, instead of going out for Mexican food, these consumers may go out for tacos – which could be Mexican or Korean. This trend is predicted to impact the foodservice industry significantly, and operators can take advantage of it by incorporating global dishes into their general strategy, with an emphasis on specific dish types and flavors.
Create a shareable experience
More than half of millennials and Gen Zers say they see dining as a social occasion, which is no surprise, considering the role social media and networking play in the everyday lives of these consumers. Further, 65 percent of millennials and 72 percent of Gen Zers say technology makes them feel more connected. A foodservice environment that incorporates and encourages socialization and mobile shareability is bound to catch the attention of younger diners.
While cost and convenience are important factors to millennials when it comes to choosing a restaurant, they will sacrifice both to dine at buzzworthy locations or emerging unique restaurants because they value new, shareable experiences. Their relationship with food is unique and more robust compared to other generations; they see food as a way to create a personal brand, and they accomplish this through technology. Forty-seven percent of millennials text and tweet while they eat, and food is the second most popular topic of Instagram posts. Social networks and food go hand-in-hand for millennials. They want a dining experience that is social and shareable.
For Gen Zers, mobile technology has always been a given, so they expect it to be present in everything they do. While millennials pioneered the use of social networks to amplify one’s personal brand, Gen Zers are less interested in sharing their lives with the world and prefer more direct social conversations with their friends, which is why smaller, more private platforms like Instagram and Snapchat are popular with this generation.
People increasingly want to understand where their food is sourced and how it’s produced. Millennials are leading the way in demanding more transparency, particularly when it comes to nutritional information and calorie count requirements. Fresh, local and natural call-outs resonate the most with these consumers, and compared to baby boomers and Gen Xers, millennials are most likely to purchase antibiotic-free, free-range and organic items. Similarly, Gen Z consumers identify fresh, natural and hormone-free as the top food traits for which they would pay more at restaurants.
A growing desire exists among diners for healthy options, and millennials and Gen Zers are the generations demanding this most, with about half of each demographic saying they are more likely to visit a restaurant if it offers healthy options. However, the definitions of health and wellness vary among different groups of diners. For younger people, health is no longer just about calories; it’s becoming more about quality ingredients.
It’s important for foodservice operators to understand the ever-changing preferences of their diners, so that they can offer the food and beverages they’re looking for and speak effectively to their desires. As part of our goal to be our customers’ best business partner, we arm out foodservice partners with insights like these and advise them on best practices to grow their business.