Be prepared for Gen Z snack attacks

July 10 , 2017

Up-and-coming Generation Z is adventurous, values transparency and is willing to experiment.

Habitual snacking has disrupted the typical breakfast-lunch-dinner pattern to the point where some consumers simply opt out of most “regular” meals and graze all day long. Snacking, according to The NPD Group, accounts for 35 percent of all eating occasions in the U.S. The habit is especially ingrained among younger audiences, with members of Generation Z driving much of the demand for snacks.1

Born after 1992, Gen Z members represent roughly one-quarter to one-third of the population. As those individuals gradually become the largest portion of the workforce, their influence and tastes will shift the way employers manage food at work.

Coffee and croissant

Gen Z members look at food through a different lens than their predecessors. Like millennials, they expect greater transparency. They are coming of age during a time when local, organic, clean, gluten-free, paleo and other food categories are commonly understood and not just cultural outliers. As the most ethnically diverse age group, they are adventurous and not afraid to experiment with new foods.

Snacks hold special appeal to this generation for several reasons. They tend to be on the go and single, so they have neither the time nor the inclination to prepare meals. Many have grown up with convenience foods and never acquired cooking skills, so they’re more reliant on purchased products. Gen Zers also gravitate to snacks because they satisfy without breaking the bank, a big attraction for someone with an entry-level salary.

What kinds of snacks appeal to Gen Zers?

Functional food and drinks. Because they are frequently consumed in place of a meal, snacks often need to provide a nutritional or physiological benefit. “There is a shift in what’s eaten at main meals and how snacking is viewed,” says David Portalatin, vice president of industry analysis for The NPD Group. “Consumers today expect snacks to work for them; the snack is no longer just a reward.”

In “The Future of Snacking 2016,” The Hartman Group2 identifies three key drivers of snacking: nourishment, optimization and pleasure. Snackers looking for nourishment (55 percent of all snacking occasions) are hungry, thirsty, seeking an energy boost or managing a health condition and gravitate toward snacks with whole grains, fiber, protein, probiotics and other health halo attributes. Optimization seekers (34 percent of snacking occasions) crave quick energy, stress management, mental focus and choices designed to restore their equilibrium, such as sports drinks, energy and granola bars, meat snacks and coffee/tea drinks. Pleasure snackers (49 percent of snacking occasions) are motivated by comfort and craving, indulgence, reward and discovery of new food types, origins, preparation methods and new products overall. The last group will look for chocolate, pastries, bagged snacks and soft drinks.

Portable items. Younger consumers were practically born with mobile phones and video game joysticks in their hands, and they are natural multitaskers, so they value food options that free them to continue texting or powering through desk jobs. Packaged crackers and cookies, fresh whole fruit, dried meat snacks, nuts and other easily transported items fit the bill.

Diverse flavors. Corporate and health-care dining facilities are increasingly exploring new ethnic territory to appeal to Gen Zers. Snacks should reflect that diversity of flavors as well. Retail and restaurant operators can meet demand for something out of the ordinary by offering snack mixes and popcorn seasoned with ethnically inspired spices; yogurts from Greece, Iceland, Finland and Australia; global meatballs or small bites like samosas and dumplings.

Portable portions. Grab-and-go food and drinks, order-ahead platforms, kiosks, vending machines, quick-payment options — snacks aren’t complicated, and acquiring them shouldn’t be, either. Gen Z values anything that will save time and minimize interaction.

Affordable choices. This group, after watching millennials struggle to find jobs and pay off student debt, has learned the value of frugality. Value and low price points hold big appeal.

Products geared to the time of day. With 90 percent of consumers snacking multiple times during the day, workplace snacks should ideally provide a variety of choices so workers can mix it up throughout the day. For many Gen Zers, morning snacks tend to replace breakfast and involve better-for-you options like protein-rich snack bars, eggs, oatmeal and yogurt (and pastries). Midday snacks often replace lunch and as such should include choices that provide protein, complex carbohydrates and other forms of sustainable energy. Afternoon snack cravings revolve around salty choices and pick-me-ups, including coffee drinks, while evenings open the door to indulgent and sweet treats.

As Gen Z’s impact on the workforce grows, the demand for snacks will only increase. Smart employers will position themselves to satisfy that hunger.