‘Glocal’-loving Gen Zers seek brand reliability in 2024

When it comes to shopping, Generation Z consumers’ behaviour is identified by their reputation as digitally astute; health, environmental, and socially conscious; convenience-oriented, value-driven, and seekers of authentic and transparent experiences.

“Experts are saying they are the most diverse, best-educated and most stressed-out generation in the country’s history,”​ Peggy Davies, President of the Private Label Manufacturers Association (PLMA), told FoodNavigator.

Online drives food preferences

Digital buying is central to how Gen Zers, people born between the mid-to-late 1990s and the early 2010s, are approaching food purchasing. “Since much of Gen Z entered adulthood during the pandemic, online ordering is natural to them whether that is takeaway food or groceries,” ​Vhari Russell, Founder of The Food Marketing Experts, told FoodNavigator. Gen Z, sometimes called Zoomers, are ordering online as it saves time and provides convenience, two important factors.

In 2024, we can expect Gen Z consumers to share more local and regional foods on social media, a trend that is becoming increasingly popular. Content creators showing off a new restaurant recommendation to visit or their favourite home-cooked meal, foodie content on TikTok catching their attention across social media is growing.

“Remember that Gen Z is the borderless gens with a love for imperfect, weird foods, and who are always excited to try something new,” ​Russell added.

Remaining a leading social platform, TikTok is playing a big part in influencing the Gen Z market, which is keen to try new and old flavours and combine eating out and eating at home. The demographic is proud of the dishes they create and wants to share them. “The kind of messy, more unfiltered content, the better,”​ said Russell.

TikTok will continue to feed consumers’ imagination in 2024, Russell said, with content feeding the imagination. The use of air fryers is one buying trend fueling this. “We will see more home-cooked creations as people are looking for thrifty recipe solutions,” ​added Russell.

Making a splash over the pond

European Gen Z consumers are driving the expanded popularity of “glocal” cuisine, which is set to hit the US too. “2024 will witness a rise in the Americanisation of food in Western Europe,” ​Russell said.

Local food from each country in the region will also take the spotlight in response. The rise of the campaign ‘Save the chippies’, a ‘Fryday’ campaign designed to save British chip shops from closure, is expected to carry on growing in 2024, for example.

Trends such as Jacket potatoes, a firm favourite in the UK, are becoming very popular in the US, so much so we could see Heinz starting a jacket potato van tour in North America, for example.

“Europe is increasingly big on messy and cheap food,​” Russell said. Therefore, American fast-food brands will continue to open more stores across the continent. Bigger chains like McDonald’s, pronounced ‘Maccas’ in the UK or ‘DoMac’ in France, have been long-time favourites of young consumers, which, Russell adds, shows no signs of slowing.

Snacking trends

Gen Z is a generation that values health and wellness, sustainability, and ethical sourcing. “They are more health-conscious than previous generations and are more likely to choose foods and beverages that are organic, natural, and plant-based,” ​said Russell.

“Contrary to widespread assumptions, Gen Z isn’t the generation that craves healthy eating,”​ Russell continued. Widely speaking, the demographic has a deep love of discovering new flavours. “Instead, they have adventurous palates and embrace food that stimulates their senses, partly driven by their early exposure to international flavours,” ​Russell added.

Described as “the super-snacking generation”​, research ​by market intelligence company Mintel finds that a quarter of Gen Zers snack more than once daily. Many of these consumers have little affinity for the traditional rules of three meals per day. With a focus on snacking, brands have the opportunity to target them with smaller and more exciting bites that target different parts of the day and moods. “Products that focus on nighttime cravings could be a great solution,”​ Russell said.

The go-to snacks for Gen Z are led by the bored at home: cheese and crackers movement, Food Marketing Experts identifies. At-home social occasions drive the leading trends in 2024. Consuming gummies while hanging with friends and watching TV are leading trends. Beyond the home, expect to see consumers eating snacks including protein bars and fruit as part of an exercise regime during post-workout.

Seeking brand loyalty

In 2023, the Private Label Manufacturers Association (PLMA) released insights on how food retailers and manufacturers respond to meet the demands of the Gen Z consumer.

Although there is extensive guidance on how brands can most effectively sell consumer packaged goods (CPG) to Gen Zers, knowledge on how they buy is limited. “There are almost no insights on their purchasing habits and attitudes when it comes to store brands,”​ Davies said.

In response, PLMA commissioned a nationwide survey of Gen Z participants, including 934 men and women, largely 22 to 28 years of age, who self-identified as the primary grocery shoppers for their households.

Describing Gen Z as a demographic that is “both attractive and challenging to marketers”, ​Davies said that with 80 million consumers belonging to this demographic in the US, Gen Z is the “next great consumer bulge, destined to be as intensely studied as their generational predecessors, the Millennials”.

Dr Sara Williamson, Assistant Professor of Marketing at SUNY Old Westbury, and faculty member of PLMA’s Executive Education Programme led the survey findings, honing in on Gen Zers’ perceptions of store brands. The research explored their product awareness, how often they buy them and how they compare them to national brands.

Gen Z focus on reliability

Dr Williamson focused on the importance to Gen Z shoppers of store brand product ‘reliability’. Almost half of Gen Zers purchase store brands frequently or always during regular shopping. Other than price, the most common reasons consumers said they choose a store brand over a national brand were quality expectations and previous brand experience.

In addition, the belief that store brands are ‘reliable’ is the leading factor driving Gen Z store brand purchase frequency. “Reliability perception is a stronger store brand purchase predictor than any other measure, including household income and monthly grocery spending,”​ said Davies.

Store brand reliability suggests the manufacturer-retailer relationship is ever-important. “To succeed with Gen Z, retailers must establish a foundation of store brand suppliers who meet their customers’ quality expectations,”​ Davies added.

‘Expressive loyalists’ and ‘discerning reluctants’ consumers

Dr Williamson highlighted shoppers can also fall into segments of ‘expressive loyalists’, store brands’ most ardent fans among Gen Z shoppers, and ‘discerning reluctants’, store brands’ least supportive group. For example, 82% of ‘expressive loyalists’ say they buy store brands ‘always or frequently’, whereas that purchase rate is only 32% among ‘discerning reluctants’. Asked if they ‘experimented with store brands’ to find the best value, 91% of ‘loyalists’ said they did, compared to 12% of ‘reluctant’ consumers.

The percentage of loyalists and reluctants who said they fit ‘very much or precisely’ differed significantly when asked to evaluate a series of positive descriptions of store brands, indicating the variations between the types of shoppers within the demographic.

Approximately 67% of Gen Z are ‘extremely/very’ aware of store brands, 63% buy store brands ‘always/frequently,’ 55% are ‘extremely likely/likely’ to experiment with store brands to find ‘best value, and almost half (49%) ‘always/frequently’ choose a place to shop due to its store brands. “This is all good news for store brands,” ​Williamson said, “as Gen Z represents retailers’ core customers over the next few decades”