Lifestyle Spotlight: Food is Gen Z’s top spending priority, survey finds

Dive Brief:

  • Food is Gen Z’s top spending priority, taking 23% share of their wallet this spring, according to a semiannual report from Piper Sandler assessing teen spending and brand preferences. This figure is up from 21% in the fall of 2020 but down from 25% a year ago.
  • Food has the greatest share of spending among upper-income male teens age 13 to 19 (23%), according to the survey. It ranks second behind clothing among female teens, who still devote 24% of their spending to food.
  • The report, which looked at teen snacking and plant-based meat, found a high interest in healthier eating. According to the survey, 54% of teens preferred healthy snacks, and 49% consume or were willing to try plant-based meat.
  • Dive Insight:

    Gen Z has shown a preference for healthy eating, including more organic and natural foods that are free of additives. This is largely because they are growing up during an age of health and wellness where consumers are paying more attention to the ingredients list compared to prior generations.

    However, while more than half of teens in the spring 2021 Piper Sandler survey reported preferring healthy snacks, only 3% listed fruits, vegetables or nuts as a favorite snack item.

    Similar to other demographics, Gen Z has emerged as a snack-focused generation, opting for multiple eating experiences throughout the day instead of larger, sit-down meals.

    Although they spend more time thinking about food compared to other generations, teens have mostly remained loyal to a handful of big-name brands to satisfy their snacking urges, according to the Piper Sandler report. The top six snack brands for teens in the spring 2021 survey are: Lay’s, Doritos and Cheetos from PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division; Campbell Soup’s Goldfish; Kellogg’s Cheez-It; and Mondelez’s Oreo.

    Lay’s has remained on top of the list since fall 2019, and gained traction from late last year. PepsiCo earned the highest share of snack mentions among teens in both the fall and spring surveys.

    A few brands that have been at the bottom of the snacking preferences list are climbing their way up. General Mills’ Nature Valley earned a spot in the top ten list this year as the eighth most popular snack brand among teens. McKee Foods’ Little Debbie and Welch’s, owned by the National Grape Cooperative Association, tied for 10th place.

    Snacks with a healthier angle may be gaining traction among teens, as fewer than 40% of them in the spring survey reported intending to eat the same amount or more of Cheetos, Lay’s and Little Debbie products. Meanwhile, 68% of teens plan to eat the same amount or more of Nature Valley products, while 61% plan to maintain or increase their intake of Goldfish.

    With this health focus, Gen Z’s growing interest in plant-based meats is unsurprising. Members of this generation are more likely to be vegetarians, according to a 2019 Packaged Facts report.

    Piper Sandler’s spring 2021 survey found 15% of teens consume plant-based meat, off slightly from the fall 2020 survey, with Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat the top two preferred brands. More than a third did not eat plant-based meat, but were willing to try it. In a fall 2020 survey of adults of all ages, Piper Sandler found only 20% who had not tried plant-based meat were open to doing so.

    At the same time, Gen Z is keen on personalization and ethnic foods. They demonstrate a sense of curiosity in their eating habits compared to other generations. Satisfying Gen Z’s craving for healthy products while also keeping their desire for unique flavors and eating experiences in mind can pose a challenge for food and beverage manufacturers. Some brands have recently tried to make inroads with teens.

    PepsiCo launched a line of juice waters called Frutly earlier this year that are made without sugar or artificial sweeteners and include electrolytes. The company designed the beverage to appeal to teens looking for “flavorful hydration” that also meet a parents’ nutritional preferences.

    Brands also have an opportunity to use social media to grab the attention of teens. The Piper Sandler survey found the average teen spends about 12 hours per week on social media. This has made these outlets a promising channel to communicate and raise brand awareness. In 2019, Kellogg’s Kashi tapped Gen Z influencers to help provide input and develop its plant-based Organic Super Food Bites snacks in its Kashi by Kids line.

    The interactive approach not only gives Gen Z a say in the products on the supermarket shelf, it also transforms a CPG purchase into a more experiential endeavor. Approaches such as these may be a promising avenue for brands looking to tap into the teen market.


Published April 14, 2021

 Lauren Manning

Lifestyle Spotlight: Food is Gen Z’s top spending priority, survey finds

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