Young people taking food pictures with mobile smartphone

Gen Z is flying through formative life stages with unparalleled access to information, technology and global culture, shaping them into some of the most adventurous consumers we’ve seen. But they are still growing up — figuratively and literally — and there’s much to be discovered about what their worldview and values will mean for food and beverage manufacturers eager to reach them.  

As our analysts begin fielding our latest study, “Taste of Tomorrow: Navigating Food through the Eyes of Gen Z and Alpha,” let’s look at what we know so far about the factors shaping these young consumers’ emerging food values.  

First things first: Gen Z’s expectations are sky-high. They have come to expect more from their food and beverage occasions than older cohorts, which is evident in their preferences toward premium qualities. Let’s take a look at seven over-indexing need states that shed light on Gen Z’s emerging food values. 

Exploration and familiarity 

Gen Z has grown up exposed to a rich spectrum of cultures and lifestyles, whether discovered online, through their social circle, or in a local bodega. They view themselves as citizens of the world and want their food to reflect this multicultural outlook, incorporating a variety of global cuisines from Italian to Middle Eastern into their everyday eating. Don’t confuse this with a distaste for familiarity, however: 39% of Gen Z consumers prefer to eat the foods they’re used to.1 So depending on the occasion, needs for “authentic global flavors,” “high-quality artisan foods or ingredients,” or “foods or beverages with a unique story” come to the fore.   

Health and wellness 

Growing up during a global pandemic, health and wellness are essential concerns for Gen Z. While COVID-19 made these consumers acutely aware of both personal and public health issues, many have also watched their parents struggle to un-learn the so-called toxic diet principles that plagued older generations.  

As a result, Gen Z has an increasingly holistic view of health and places significant emphasis on mental wellbeing. Just scroll TikTok for a few minutes to observe the consistently viral trend of #selfcare on display. Speaking of social media, seeking out health-related information through non-traditional mediums like podcasts and influencers is second nature for these digital natives. Both social media and food can be means for satisfying needs around “connecting socially with others” and “exploring new ideas/expertise about healthy living” for Gen Z.   

Better production  

The “better-for-you” movement is part of Gen Z’s DNA — and it extends far beyond the nutrition panel. They’ve embraced the idea that more intentional production methods lead to foods and beverages that are not only healthier and tastier, but better for the community and the planet. In fact, 69% of Gen Z consumers base their food and beverage purchasing decisions on environmental or social well-being issues at least sometimes.2 Key need states that speak to these values are “positively impacting the environment/society,” and “engaging with people who care a lot about food/the food system.”  

Clearly, this generation is redefining what it means to be a discerning consumer. Gen Z’s appetite for exploration, holistic health and a more sustainable world will undoubtedly shape the future of the food and beverage industry. To respond correctly, companies and brands need an even deeper understanding of the cultural forces influencing these consumers’ attitudes, behaviors and choices. But more importantly, you need to know the implications of these findings for your business. Stay tuned as we uncover the full picture in Taste of Tomorrow: Navigating Food through the Eyes of Gen Z and Alpha, coming December 2023. 

1At the Dining Table 2021: American Meals and Cooking, The Hartman Group 

2Sustainability 2023: Making Things Personal, The Hartman Group