Attracting Gen Z

Satisfying the snack cravings of a growing customer base

Gen Z consumers

Brought to you by Prairie City Bakery. 

Move over millennials—Gen Z is the next major demographic that’s taking over the foodservice industry. And with Technomic reporting that this generation has nearly $250 billion in spending power, the time to influence these consumers is now.

Defined by research firm Technomic as consumers aged 22 and younger, Gen Zers already frequent their favorite fast-casual restaurants, and given that more Gen Zers are driving every day, they’re likely to hit the road and drive up c-store foodservice sales as well.

Millennials and Gen Zers share many commonalities—they are independent and confident, and have never known a world without the internet and “instant satisfaction,” according to CSP/Technomic’s 2016 Gen Z study. These consumers seek quick and convenient options, especially with their snacks and beverages.

C-Store Customers

Technomic has categorized Gen Zers as “Functional Eaters,” meaning they are driven by convenience and prefer to eat meals and snacks on the go, which makes convenience stores the ultimate destination.

In fact, nearly three out of four Gen Zers (74%)  visit c-stores at least once a week. According to Technomic’s definition of the “Functional Eaters” consumer archetype, these customers’ visitation and purchase decisions are most likely to be influenced by the craveability of foods, as they seek out fare that is both delicious and flavorful.

Gen Zers mostly purchase fountain soft drinks (71%) at c-stores, but pizza is their top food choice, with 52% buying it during each visit. Doughnuts are next (48%), followed by desserts (44%), breakfast sandwiches (42%), bagels/other breads (39%) and made-to-order sandwiches (33%), according to CSP/Technomic’s 2016 Gen Z study.  

Clearly, baked goods are a draw for c-store snacking occasions with donuts, desserts and bagels topping the list. Moreover, after side items and appetizers, baked goods are the third most popular snack among Gen Zers at c-stores, according to Technomic.

These items seem to fare well among Gen Z consumers, not just because of taste, but because of price point. According to Technomic, while a majority of Gen Z consumers analyze menu prices in order to find the best value (66% say they pay close attention to menu prices to find the best value), young Gen Zers (aged 13-15) actually drive the under-indexed percentage. It’s clear that c-stores can leverage low prices as a major driver and connect it to a strong value equation for heavy snackers.

Snacking Stats

Overall, three out of four consumers purchase snacks at a c-store at least once a month. But a closer look at generational skews within this group shows that the youngest consumers are most likely to buy snacks at c-stores. In fact, a whopping 91% of Gen Zers purchase snacks at c-stores at least once a month, compared to 84% of millennials who do the same, according to Technomic Consumer Brand Metrics research from 2017.

Solo or smaller households, health consciousness and especially convenience are among the reasons more U.S. consumers—and particularly young adults—eat snack foods as part of their main meals. Around-the-clock snacking behavior is also influencing younger consumers to patronage c-stores throughout the day to purchase snacks for multiple dayparts.

More than half (56%) of Gen Zers, according to Technomic, rank the taste and flavor of food at restaurants and foodservice outlets over all other attributes, like cleanliness, order accuracy and service. This should guide c-stores toward keeping distinct flavor profiles, flavor variety and authenticity of their foodservice snacks top-of-mind.

Catering to Z

Craveability

Given Gen Zers’ preference for taste and flavor, marketing to this group should focus primarily on the craveability of menu items, even over health halos or stated freshness. In fact, this group is less concerned about where their food comes from compared to millennials, and are more likely to place importance on taste and flavor than other groups. Additionally, 59% of Gen Z consumers indicate that they like trying new products from time to time and 23% actively do so, according to Technomic.

Value

Combo deals, larger portions and promotions also pique the interest of the lower-income Gen Z consumer. It is likely that Gen Z consumers with a lower level of disposable income would gravitate toward bundled offerings and perceive such items as having a strong value equation.

Effective promotions could focus on bundling baked goods with a beverage, such as hot or iced coffee. According to recent data from Kantar WorldPanel, young Gen Zers between the ages of 13 and 17 are driving trends in the coffee category today, and their consumption of coffee continues to skyrocket. Today, more than a third (36%) of consumers in this age group drink coffee every day, compared to about a quarter who said the same in 2005. Pairing their favorite flavored coffee with a baked-good treat, for example, could capture more of their patronage and spend.

Connection

Mobile ordering is also a must for Gen Zers, with a majority (58%) ordering food via a laptop at least once a month and 52% ordering through a restaurant’s website, according to Technomic. While not all c-stores have this online capability, connecting with these tech-savvy customers via social media, apps or kiosks can help draw them in.

As Gen Zers continue to look for delicious food while on the go, understanding more about the behaviors, preferences and attitudes of this emerging base of foodservice and snacking consumers will help c-stores gain their loyalty and boost the bottom line.