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June 2-5, 2019 | New Orleans, LA
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The Gen Z dichotomy: Hardworking youngsters seek safe exploration

June 04, 2019

Teenager texting

Every generation brings a new set of beliefs and desires, which can leave marketers wondering how to evolve to fit their needs. “They are hard to categorize and the most diverse we’ve seen,” said Tim Benner, director of consumer insights for Pizza Hut US, as he described the coming of age of Generation Z (those born from 1992 to 2012) during a Tuesday afternoon IFT19 session. “They are going to wield a lot of power in the marketplace,” he continued. In fact, the group that spans ages 6 to 25 is going to comprise 7.7 billion people by the end of this year and account for $29 to $143 billion in direct spending.

Don’t mistakenly think that Gen Zers are going to be like their predecessors, the Millennials. Growing up during the recession and seeing their parents struggle has shaped the way they approach the world and certainly the way they choose to spend their money. Not to mention that this is the first generation to be what Benner considers “hyper connected digital natives.” They depend on technology because they have always known it, so much so that 79% of Gen Zers suffer emotional distress when kept away from their devices, said Brenner. And while Baby Boomers and Gen Xers might not want their devices to know everything about them, half of Gen Zers want their phones to know where they are at all times so it can anticipate and prompt them on what they might want or need.

In contrast to Millennials, members of Gen Z are much more pragmatic and safety conscious and prefer to work independently, said Benner. However, like Millennials, Gen Zers are influenced by authenticity and want brands to stand for something. “They expect you to live your brand,” explained Larry Levin, executive vice president of consumer and shopper marketing for IRI.

Gen Zers are influenced by their peers—influencers who they follow on Instagram or YouTube—not celebrity endorsements. As Levin told attendees, “they want you to be a partner not just a brand.” This stems from Gen Zers’ need to be seen as successful or cool to their peers. They lean on brands to help them craft their identities.

Even though the majority of Gen Z still lives at home and may not be making food purchases yet, they are certainly influencing the purchasing decisions of their parents. And some of the older Gen Zers are already having a direct impact on purchasing decisions as 50% of those aged 18–21 are participating in their household’s grocery shopping, according to Levin. Interestingly, Gen Zers want both ecommerce and brick and mortar shopping options, which varies depending on the category they are shopping for. While the majority (93%) still shop for food in brick and mortar stores, Levin sees this group as driving the need and popularity for “click and collect” purchases (buying online and picking up in the store).

When it comes specifically to foods and beverages, Gen Zers want food they are familiar with but that stretches just outside their comfort zone, said Melissa Sunseri, senior channel marketing manager for chain restaurants at Tyson Foods. They want to be seen as “curators of cool food.” Sunseri gave attendees the example of mac n’ cheese grilled cheese—two dishes that everyone is familiar with but combined to make something new that can be shared on social media. Sunseri calls this generation “less foodies and more palate pioneers.” As Benner summed it up, “Gen Z[ers] are rule breakers within structure.”