Diana Kelter
Diana is a Senior Trend Analyst at Mintel. She investigates how cultural, lifestyle and technology shifts take shape across sectors and leverages Mintel data across trend observations.

America’s youngest generation, commonly referred to as Generation Z or the iGeneration, represent consumers between the ages of 11-23 and make up 17% of the population, according to the US Census Bureau. iGens are the fastest growing generation and unlike their older counterparts, they grew up in a totally digital world with connection and information at their fingertips. And in 2018, many of these young consumers are entering into adulthood.

Fast food was once the only option for a quick and convenient meal, but for iGens the fast casual segment, such as Chipotle and Panera Bread, and delivery have been a constant. While convenience, technology, customization and viral food trends represent the common dining experience for iGens, similar to all consumers, iGens are confronted with a variety of dining options which can result in less loyalty to one specific restaurant. Mintel’s US report on marketing to the iGeneration shows that 37% of adult iGens (aged 18-23) feel their generation is likely to be loyal to brands they like, whereas 58% feel their generation is concerned about keeping up with trends.

Today, many restaurants aim to appeal to the latest food and beverage trends, whether it’s serving cauliflower rice or cold brew coffee. This is not to say that restaurants should jump on every viral trend that hits social media, but rather that focusing on the larger macro trends surrounding iGens will prepare restaurants to stay ahead of the competition.

Ride sharing is the norm

Ride sharing has become the common way to get around for younger consumers, with iGens the most likely generation to have used a ride sharing service, according to Mintel’s US report on ride sharing. In July 2017, Taco Bell teamed up with Lyft to enable passengers to request a stop at a Taco Bell drive-thru during their ride. The experience was only tested in Orange County, California, but the chain said it plans to roll out the feature nationwide in 2018. Uber is also not foreign to foodservice partnerships with the continued growth of UberEats, which McDonald’s leverages for delivery.

Lyft and Uber also make it significantly easier for consumers to get around while traveling, benefiting restaurants that are off the main grid. Every year, Lyft hosts a virtual award ceremony called the “Lyftie Awards” which includes highlighting the most visited restaurants, bars and coffee shops across major cities. Restaurants have to think about the impact of ride sharing not just from a delivery perspective, but a lifestyle perspective as well.

International cuisine is less foreign

iGens have grown up with more diversity than previous generations. According to the US Census Bureau, 26% of iGens are non-white compared to 19% of Baby Boomers that are non-white. Further, iGens make up the second largest percentage of Hispanics. As a result, iGens have more of a global perspective than previous generations and this impacts what they look for when dining out. Social media also plays a role in introducing iGens to new flavor concepts directly through a screen, which can result in iGens having an understanding of a flavor or ingredient before even taking a bite, with two in five iGens agreeing social media exposes them to food they’ve never heard of.

33% of iGens would like to see more menus feature dishes that promote healthy skin.

Health is a lifestyle that goes beyond calories

For many iGens, embracing health is a lifestyle choice. As seen in the Mintel’s 2018 US Foodservice Trend ‘Foodceuticals,’ functional ingredients and flavor trends are meeting in the middle as consumers seek health from the inside out. Mintel’s upcoming report on healthy dining trends finds that 33% of iGens would like to see more menus feature dishes that promote healthy skin compared to 20% of all consumers, and are also more likely to be interested in seeing more detox components. Younger consumers are more commonly viewing health through specific functional benefits and the menus that promote these benefits in a flavor-forward manner are more likely to resonate with younger diners.

Social media is a scattered playing field

Millennials set the stage for viral food trends and iGens aren’t changing that dynamic. In fact, 60% of iGens visit Snapchat at least daily, 62% visit Instagram daily and 72% visit YouTube daily, according to Mintel’s social media tracker. However, Mintel’s 2018 US Foodservice Trend ‘Feed the Feed’ discusses that the balance between over-the-top dishes that are created just for a picture and a realistic meal experience will continue to find more common ground. There is no doubt that iGens are leveraging social media to find restaurant information as six in 10 iGens agree that social media is a good resource for choosing a restaurant. The challenge for restaurants is determining the best way to reach this generation with their interests scattered across a variety of apps.

Diana Kelter is a Foodservice Analyst at Mintel. Diana authors reports focusing on changing consumer attitudes, industry news, and flavor / ingredient trends within foodservice. Diana also specializes in leveraging menu data from Mintel Menu Insights database.