Gen Z is poised to change the face of food, according to new research from The Center for Food Integrity (CFI). CFI conducted digital ethnography, quantitative research and immersive Gen Z experiences, for a 360-degree look at this unique segment and how to engage to earn trust.

“The findings equip the food industry with insights to engage Gen Z consumers, Gen Z farmers and ranchers, and the Gen Z workforce,” said Roxi Beck, CFI consumer engagement director, who led the Gen Z initiative. “The guide details engagement strategies agriculture organizations can use to attract and retain young members and future leaders. Additionally, it details how food companies, restaurants, retailers, agribusinesses and others involved in the business of food can attract and integrate this up-and-coming generation into today’s multigenerational workforce.” 

Born between the mid-to-late 1990s and the early 2010s, this emerging consumer segment has a distinct set of values, behaviors, fears and preferences, along with growing purchasing power. Accounting for 20.67% of US consumers and nearly one-third of the global population, Gen Z’s economic power is the fastest growing across all generations and their income is predicted to increase fivefold to $33 trillion by 2030 and surpass Millennials’ incomes by 2031.

Gen Z is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation, too. According to Pew Research, Gen Z represents the leading edge of the country’s changing racial and ethnic makeup – with 52% non-Hispanic White, 25% Hispanic, 14% Black, 6% Asian and 5% a different race or two or more races. The US Census Bureau projects that by 2026, the majority of this generation will be non-White.

Gen Z also thinks very differently about the products they buy – including food and beverages. “They are driven by social causes, including environmental and social justice issues. This means they support brands that align with their values,” said Beck. “They value technology used to produce food, and view food as a form of self-expression and identity.”

This generation also likes immersive experiences. To that end, as part of the research project, CFI brought together Gen Z food online influencers and Gen Z farmer online influencers for a two-day tour around San Antonio, Texas, that explored beef production and nutrition – and explored the many questions regarding beef sustainability. The tour gave influencers access to experts including a cattle rancher, veterinarian, dietitian and chef – and no question was left unanswered. A smaller-scale tour was also conducted in eastern Iowa.

“The participants experienced things most people simply don’t have access to – a backstage pass of sorts. Throughout the experience, we saw many ‘aha’ moments from the consumer and farmer participants.” said Beck. “We’ve conducted several influencer tours over the years. They are an incredible way to show full transparency, have authentic conversations, and truly build relationships – all important elements in earning trust.”

When it comes to specific eating habits, CFI’s Illuminate™ digital ethnography research revealed distinct trends including: 

• Building a Better Relationship with Food: They believe intuitive and mindful eating will help them build a healthier relationship with food that is free of stress and guilt.
• Balanced Nutrition: They try to optimize nutrition by developing a habit of eating a wide variety of foods, especially plant-based, rather than restricting their diet.
• Sustainable Diets: They want to do what they can to reduce their carbon footprint by minimizing meat consumption and buying local ingredients.

Illuminate™ leverages digital ethnography methodology to instantly observe millions of online interactions, revealing demographics, values, attitudes, fears, motivators, behaviors, brand preferences and more.

CFI’s research regarding why consumers accept or reject technology in agriculture and food showed that when communicating about technology, like gene editing, primary messages should include key drivers of trust, including: food safety, sustainability, perceived benefits, naturalness of the technology and making information readily available and easy to understand.  

The research culminated in a communications guide, “Engaging Gen Z: The Consumer, The Farmer/Rancher, The Workforce,” that details CFI research and other Gen Z findings, along with specific strategies to engage each audience.

For agriculture organizations looking to recruit and retain Gen Z farmers and ranchers, provide opportunities early and often so they are connected and understand that they can have an impact. Offer development and training opportunities to empower engagement outside of agriculture. And make sure other generations take into consideration the new perspective Gen Z brings that can help the industry advance

When engaging the Gen Z workforce, showcase your company values, get them involved in initiatives that support company culture and community engagement, and demonstrate that you’re committed to taking steps to impact change