Gen Z currently makes up 25% of the population of Canada
Source: Technomic Canada, The Canadian GenZ Selfie (2016)

If you want to understand future consumer behaviour in foodservice, you must consider Generation Z, the next big consumer cohort on the horizon. Do not discount this group because of their relative youth; they have already proven themselves to be a force in shaping cultural attitudes.

What to call this group is also problematic. Some of the many handles I’ve read include The Centennial Generation, Dot Com Kids, Generation Connected, the Net Generation, the Selfie Generation, to name a few. Another popular and descriptive label for the group is iGen.

iGen refers to the emergence of Apple’s iPhone. The first iPhone was released on June 29, 2007. The first iPad was in stores in January, 2010. Check these dates against the milestone dates above and you’ll realize that GenZ has never known a world without the internet, smartphones, and mobile devices. In Japan, GenZ is referred to as “Neo-Digital natives.”

This is key. No group is more plugged in to their smartphones and the internet than GenZ. Not surprisingly, this makes for an impatient consumer seeking out products and services tailored to their individual wants. A number of studies have looked more deeply at GenZ: In Canada (2016) The Globe & Mail sponsored an online survey of nearly 900 17 year-olds, and Technomic (2016) looked at restaurant behaviour and menu choices in Canada. Here are some of the findings of these – and other – studies:

  • Plugged-in. Spend 75% of their time online in one form or another. Forty per cent of Canadian youth said “they are using the internet almost constantly.”
  • Value-conscious. Imprinted by living through the aftermath of The Great Recession.
  • Quality/taste matters. Willing to spend on food that meets their affinity for adventurous flavours, ‘healthy food’, causes, nutrients, and visual appeal.
  • Breakfast anytime. 78% of Gen Z consumers enjoy breakfast foods at nontraditional times.
  • “Thrill of the hunt” mindset. Enjoy seeking out and discovering retail locations.
  • Value “frictionless transactions.” Seek engaging and organic connections.

78% of GenZ Enjoy Breakfast Foods Any Time Of Day

igen 2

Traditional print/mass advertising will not get it done with GenZ. It has been estimated that the average Gen-Zer has an attention span of about eight seconds. Cracking the code to achieve reach within the diverse strata of GenZ requires identifying and using a number of the touchpoints where they live online – influencers, bloggers, and even events where they are physically. The websites GenZers frequent reflect their visual orientation: YouTube, Vine, Periscope, and Meerkat. In the end, the kamikaze approach to marketing used by food trucks and independent restaurants across Canada may be better suited to GenZ than the traditional media mix relied on by restaurant chains.

Bottom line is that the numbers around GenZ are staggering. Globally, there are over two billion people in this cohort. Liz Braun of the Toronto Sun cites that GenZ currently makes up 25% of the population in Canada, on the cusp of being one-third of the population – bigger than both the Boomers and the Millennials.

Many foodservice operators are still in the midst of innovating to adapt to Millennials. Be aware that the next wave of change is already building. Mark McCrindle of the McCrindle Research Centre in Australia summed up iGen as follows: “They don’t just represent the future; they are creating it.” Are you ready?

Top tips to engage Gen Zers

  • What they want – When they want it. Breakfast in the 21st century will be a moving target. Think French Toast Waffle Bites or Bacon & Egg Muffins on your menu as a snack or dessert offering.
  • Make it snappy. Gen Zers like the convenience of QSRs, but are also interested in the unique taste experiences of independent operators. Consider delivery, kiosk ordering and mobile payment to speed up their eating occasions.
  • Shake up your menu with mashups. This cohort likes global flavours combined in innovative ways in mains, sides and desserts.
  • Make it pretty. Your dishes need to be instantly Instagrammable and shareable across multiple social media channels.
  • Don’t forget corporate responsibility and environmental stewardship. Gen Zers take social issues seriously and will be looking to you to support causes and community.

Darren Climans is a foodservice insights professional with close to 20 years' experience partnering with broadline distributors, CPG suppliers, and foodservice operators. His practice is to understand issue-based decisions by taking a data-driven approach to strategic decision making.