The Food and Beverage Revolution: Unlocking Younger Consumers’ Preferences

The food and beverage industry is seeing shifting consumer behaviors, particularly among younger consumers. These consumers—Gen Z and Millennials—differ from older generations in three main ways.

First, they are more informed. For example, younger generations grew up in the information era and had exposé documentaries on the food industry baked into their middle school and high school educations.  They absorbed this information as they were formulating their opinions and habits around food. This exposure to information makes younger generations more conscious consumers, meaning they focus on how their purchasing decisions impact themselves, the environment, and society.

Second, younger consumers are experiential, as you can see in the graph below. They’ve become used to seeing a variety of beautifully presented food on social media and they in turn want their food to deliver experiences. Millennials in particular are more adventurous, have tried more “trendy” foods and beverages, and seek experiences when they dine out. For brands to keep up, they must know where the trade-offs lie and what they can do to garner the attention of these younger consumers.

Third, Gen Zs and Millennials feel especially short on time. This bleeds into how they approach shopping, cooking, and dining. Marketers need to understand how these convenience-focused generations behave differently because of restricted schedules and help alleviate the anxiety around cooking.

To support Collage Group members, we conducted two nationally-representative surveys of 2,880 and 2,877 respondents separately. With your input, we designed a series of questions testing key hypotheses on how Gen Z and Millennial consumers compare to older generations, and one another, when it comes to food and beverage.

Takeaways and action steps implied by our research include:

  • Many Millennials gravitate towards “trendy” health foods: Make sure your brand offers a variety of healthy “trendy” options, but don’t be trendy for the sake of it as Millennials find this off-putting
  • Millennials are shopping at big-box stores more than national grocery chains: Capture Millennial shopper attention by partnering with both big-box stores and national grocery chains when distributing your brand’s products
  • Young consumers care about brand values: Adopt and promote the values of smaller brands in your portfolio when they align to those of younger consumers. Show how your company promotes its values through these acquisitions
  • Millennials and Gen Zs are cooking at home, but find it to be a chore: Provide simple recipes that use your brand and prepped products with few ingredients that will make the process of cooking more enjoyable and less of a burden
  • Gen Z has a distinct preference for tea over coffee: Focus on Gen Z’s preference for tea and specialty coffee drinks to continue to drive this preference into the future, even as they develop more of a taste for coffee

*Respondents were asked if they agreed to three statements, including: “I consider myself a foodie,” “I have a more adventurous palette than most people,” and “I like to eat foods from different cultures.” “Experiential Eaters” agree with all three. “Seekers” agree with any two statements. “Occasional Deviators” agree with just one statement. “Safe Players” agree with none of the statements. Note: agreement is top 2 box.

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