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Spilling the Tea on Gen Z! What food and drink brands really need to know to grow!

Fionnuala Fahy, Insight and Planning Specialist

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According to the Bank of America, $33tn is the forecast income of Gen Z globally in 2030. This is five times higher than in 2020 (Mintel UK, 2022).

Gen Z are the healthiest, most environmentally friendly generation the world has ever seen, and have grown up with a mistrust of big brands over small. Right? This is the narrative spread by much of the media and a few vocal digital Gen Z advocates. However, a closer inspection of the data shows these are myths and brands which take them too literally will struggle to grow! This article will look at the opportunities and challenges of how Gen Z approach sustainability, health and media usage.


 “Generation Eco” or “Generation Don’t Want to Know”?

Gen Z have grown up in a time when environmental issues have become increasingly pressing. This has given rise to the perception that they are a "Generation Eco" - deeply committed to sustainable practices and environmentally-friendly brands. In Germany, 84% of 16-25s 'consider how ethical a company/brand is before buying any product or service' vs 68% of Baby Boomers (Mintel UK, 2022). While there certainly are individuals within Gen Z who are passionate about sustainability and social causes, the reality is not as straightforward as the media portrays it.

Research indicates that while Gen Z members may express concern for environmental issues and purpose-driven brands, their actual purchasing behaviours often differ.  They are still influenced by factors like affordability and convenience, making them less likely to consistently prioritise eco-friendly choices. Despite being criticised for "unethical working practices", Shein's global sales rose 60% in 2021, to $16bn driven by Gen Z customers (The New York Times, 2023). In many cases, Gen Z's environmental consciousness is more attitudinal than behavioural.

In 2021, a global study of 10,000 young people found 45% of 16-25's admitting climate anxiety was affecting their daily lives (Hickman et al., 2021). Gen Z find themselves grappling with a sense of helplessness in the face of the climate situation, as they lack the power to exert significant control over it. Stepping back, this could explain the lack of sustainable purchasing behaviours. Brands like Corona and Ritter Sport are offering eco-incentives to reward Gen Z for taking tangible actions, and the newly launched Dutch organic dairy brand Kalverliefde sources ethical milk from farms that do not separate calves and cows. This suggests that brands cannot solely rely on the "Generation Eco" image to win over Gen Z consumers. Instead, they must focus on offering value with tangible eco incentives, whether emotional or financial. 


Dreaming of Health, Snacking on the Journey

Gen Z, having grown up in an era of heightened awareness about healthier living, are increasingly inclined towards better food and drink choices. However, their actual behaviours often contradict their claimed attitudes. Recent research reveals that 38% of Irish 16-24 year-olds strive to eat and drink healthily, but 34% feel guilty about their food choices (Mintel UK, 2022).

Gen Z may just be more honest about mental frailty, but more likely are victims of being the first smartphone generation and many see food as part of the solution. This generation faces higher levels of anxiety and depression, with 68% of Irish Gen Zers acknowledging these issues and 61% wanting food/drink products with ingredients that aid relaxation (Mintel UK, 2022). Furthermore, Gen Z eschews the traditional 'wisdom' of older generations who were taught that snacking would ruin a meal, and that snacking should not happen before bedtime. A significant 60% of 16-25 Gen Z adults snack twice a day or more between meals.

Leveraging platforms like TikTok to create snack hacks and partnering with influencers to showcase creative snacking ideas can capture Gen Z's attention. The chocolate spread brand Wanna Date is highly active on TikTok, where it showcases how it can be used in creative recipes. These include baked oats, smoothies and easy freezer fudge. Highlighting how products can offer immediate benefits, especially in terms of energy and relaxation, is essential and Liquid IV is a great example of this. Additionally, protein-rich options resonate with this generation seeking healthy energy for their busy lifestyles. Brands such as Protein Pizza Co are hitting the mark here.

Brands should also recognise the need to ease pressure on Gen Z, considering the disrupted experiences they had during the Covid-19 pandemic. Engaging in interactive campaigns may provide Gen Z with much-needed stress relief and enjoyable experiences. KitKat's interactive campaign dared mobile users to out-stare a lineup of animals. “Blink Break” uses AI and a camera to detect when a participant blinks. One of the prime objectives of the game was to relax participants. By understanding their preferences, mental health concerns, and love for creativity, brands can forge genuine connections and resonate with this influential generation.


For Gen Z, influencing is the new advertising

Gen Z live, breathe and shop social media. TikTok has emerged as a favourite platform, with kids and teenagers globally spending an average of 91 minutes per day on the app, surpassing YouTube's 56 minutes (Mintel UK, 2022). Nearly half of ROI 16-24 social network users are interested in making direct purchases within social networks, showcasing the potential for social commerce (Mintel UK, 2022). However, excessive advertising on social media has led to some backlash, causing 54% of UK 16-25 social media users to limit their usage (Mintel UK, 2022).

Influencers have become the new advertising for Gen Z, with micro-influencers being perceived as more authentic and emotionally appealing. Brands like Olipop have successfully leveraged Gen Z micro-influencers to create content, engaging their dedicated followers. Utilizing virtual influencers can also bring brand personality to life, as demonstrated by Pernod Ricard's use of a non-player character in Borderlands as Ballantine's 'Chief Galactic Expansion Officer'. For content, short videos (<5 mins) are preferred by 78% of UK 16-24s following social media personalities, while long videos (>5 mins) and written posts are also popular but to a lesser extent (Mintel UK, 2022).

Gen Z's social media dominance presents a significant opportunity for brands to tap into the power of influencers. Leveraging micro-influencers and virtual influencers can enhance authenticity and brand engagement, while being mindful of excessive advertising can help maintain a positive user experience for this age cohort.


Embracing the Complexity of Today's Generation

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Understanding Gen Z's attitudes and behaviours is essential for food and drink companies seeking to connect with this dynamic generation. While they may be perceived as environmentally conscious and health-driven, the reality often differs from the media's portrayal. Brands must recognise that Gen Z's environmental consciousness is more attitudinal than behavioural and should offer tangible eco-incentives to drive sustainable choices. Likewise, the complex relationship between Gen Z's desire for healthier living and their actual snacking behaviours requires brands to address mental health concerns and provide products that offer immediate benefits and energy. Leveraging social media influencers while being mindful of excessive advertising is key to engaging Gen Z on their preferred platforms. By authentically connecting with Gen Z and addressing their unique preferences and challenges, food and drink companies can position themselves for success in this ever-evolving market.



Mintel, 2022. Busting Busting the Gen Z myths: what brands really need to grow   Europe –  2022 [online] Mintel. Available through: Bord Bia internal library

The New York Times. (2023, May 2). Shein: The Fast Fashion Giant's Impact on the Industry. Retrieved from

Hickman, C., Marks, E., Pihkala, P., Clayton, S., Lewandowski, R. E., Mayall, E. E., Wray, B., Mellor, C., & van Susteren, L. (2021). Climate anxiety in children and young people and their beliefs about government responses to climate change: a global survey. The Lancet. Planetary health, 5(12), e863–e873.