Operators need to understand how Generation Z thinks before they can hope to offer them something they want, says Chloe Combi
Generation Z now accounts for 32% of the global population – the largest demographic on planet Earth. Its members fall between the ages of 13 and 23, and as a demographic they can now do everything: eat, drink, work, shop, drive, start companies, vote, consume, etc. They have enormous economic power, are hugely influential on the fate of every brand, company and trend – and yet, because they came of age in an era of such rapid and significant change, they are also anomalous, unpredictable and largely misunderstood.
There are few industries the idiosyncratic Generation Z will impact harder than the food and drink industry. Teenagers and young adults have always been very valuable to the food and drink industry – particularly when they began to gain personal and economic independence and started centralising food and drink as social activities.
Going to pubs and bars, taking first dates to restaurants, going out to eateries without parents on special occasions like birthdays, and drinking in clubs, whether cheap student union bars or more fancy nightclubs, have always been the signifiers of early forays into adulthood. Moreover, in those crucial early adult years, tastes and habits were also formed, so that by the time you were a ‘fully formed’ adult, you had a strong sense of the restaurants and pubs you liked, the food you liked and the alcoholic drinks you liked – and, more often than not, you would become a life-long customer.
However, in the last two decades, social habits of the young (now Generation Z) have begun to change irrevocably, and the assumed trends and cycles of early adulthood are slowly vanishing.
The heady and boozy traits of young people are being replaced with measured or even teetotal ones (one-third of 18- to 24-year-olds now elect to be teetotal). Wanderlust and wild nights out in pubs and clubs are being replaced with ‘st-ocialising’ (stay at home socialising: gaming, YouTubing, Instagramming) and dating is being replaced with tribalism (going out with your tribes) – which (can be) great news for the more fast-food end of the industry, but bad news for the more restaurant end of the industry.
The social, domestic and economic climate is making Generation Z less willing and able to go out at all, and when they do, traditional fare just doesn’t cut it – they want gimmicks, games and original experiences that both keep them engaged and, probably more importantly, look great on their social media pages: Generation Z now market themselves as brands, and the trick is to make your brand part of their brand.
All of these factors conspire to make Generation Z a huge challenge for the already hard-working food and drink industry. So at a time when operators are looking to keep what they have, it is crucial to also understand the generation of the future.
So, futureproofing agency Zed decided to write a manual specifically for the industry, to de-codify and de-mystify Generation Z, to give you the tools, tricks and power to entice them away from Instagram and back into your establishments. We hope that the Zed Guide gives the industry a clear understanding of where to go next.
Chloe Combi is co-founder of Zed and author of ‘Generation Z: Their Voices, Their Lives’