Transparency and authenticity are key issues for Gen Z shoppers who want to have a better understanding of what is in their food and where it is grown, says Brian Numainville, principal in Lake Success, New York-based Retail Feedback Group.

“This is a mobile-first generation that also expects all of the different channels of shopping to seamlessly blend together,” he adds. “And they are cause-oriented, so retailers must communicate with Gen Z as to how they benefit the community and help causes important to them.”

Having lived through the great recession as kids, Gen Zers are also more frugal and aren’t afraid to look for the best deal.  They expect technology to be up to par and secure, and they look for fast experiences. When it comes to how to deliver these and other messages to Gen Zers, Numainville says the tone needs to be conversational, collaborative and fun.

“This generation doesn’t want to be ‘sold to’ using traditional marketing techniques,” he says.


Like millennials…only more so

Like millennials, Gen Zers are very interested in transparency and in sourcing their foods locally and regionally whenever possible, says Eric Richard, education coordinator of the Madison, Wisconsin-based International Dairy Deli Bakery Association.

In fact, they care even more about those things, he says.

“A lot of it has to do with how they were brought up,” Richard says. “Millennials are largely the children of baby boomers, whereas Gen Z have Gen X parents. Nutritional value, health and wellness seem to be even bigger selling points.”

“We’ll see more and more of it as they have greater spend over the next few years,” he says.

One of the main things that separate Gen Z from older generations is technology. Again, millennials share many of the same traits, but with Gen Z, it’s often the same trait on steroids.

“This is a generation that hasn’t known a time where smart phones weren’t in existence,” Richard says.

“They can instantly find information on companies, their involvement in community, their environmental stance — all the things that are demanded by Gen Z.”

And blockchain. Expect to see more and more companies demanding their suppliers use blockchain, as Walmart has done with its produce suppliers, Richard says. “All that information is available, and Gen Z will be looking at it when making food choices.”


Online all the time… 

In the short term, retailers need to accept the fact that larger basket sizes and more expensive products are likely not in the cards for Gen Zers, Numainville says. Over time, though, as they grow into their careers and have families, retailers will begin to reap the fruits of catering to this enormous demographic.

Not surprisingly, Gen Zers are more likely than older Americans, even millennials, to only shop online or to mostly shop online for groceries.

According to Retail Feedback Group research, nearly half of Gen Zers shop about equally instore and online for food and groceries. Gen Z shoppers who are buying groceries online are utilizing both pickup and delivery services.  

Many Gen Zers are still placing their orders using web browsers on computers, but they use smartphone apps to shop online in higher percentages than any of the other generations, Numainville says.

“They find online shopping more convenient than instore shopping and a more efficient use of their time.”

About a third of all Gen Zers find online shopping to be more enjoyable as compared to shopping instore, and more than four in ten believe it provides a more personalized shopping experience. 


…but brick and mortar still key

Perimeter departments rank high on the list of supermarket departments Gen Zers shop, according to Retail Feedback Group. Meat ranks second, produce third and bakery fourth.

Of course, social media is central for retailers looking to strengthen bonds with their youngest shoppers. Despite the frequently reported news that Gen Z doesn’t use Facebook, it simply isn’t true, Numainville says. Facebook, You Tube, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter are all in heavy use.

Online shopping is also second generation to Gen Zers. That being said, there are plenty of studies showing that Gen Zers still like to shop in brick-and-mortar grocery stores, Richard points out.

“I think it bodes well for our industry,” he says. “Online can be perceived as a threat to instore shopping trips, but I think it’s a great find that gen Z tends to want to see what they’re buying.”

Tapping into the experience component that only brick and mortar can deliver is a great way to lure Gen Zers into stores, Richard says.

A few ways of doing that: instore cooking classes, or hands-on ideas about how to entertain using charcuterie boards.

“Knowing that this generally really does like to shop can really help retailers put together a nice game plan on how to engage with them,” Richard says. “Have a special section of the store designated with ideas for younger shoppers.”

Gen Zers tend to be very price-conscious, Richard says.

“For many, it’s the times they grew up in,” he says. “Many of them experienced the Great Recession, saw their parents struggling, budgeting for their families. I think that’s playing a role in their own shopping.”

Another thing retailers can’t forget when tailoring their perimeter programs to their youngest shoppers: snacking.

“They’re looking for grab and go, single serve items that fall within their price point,” Richard says. “It already is a focus area for a lot of retailers, and it needs to be.”

Supermarkets need to keep in mind that they’re not just competing with online for Gen Z snacking dollars, they’re also competing with convenience stores, discount chains and dollar stores, Richard says.

Retailers looking to cater to Gen Z must also remember, Richard says, that it’s the most culturally diverse generation in American history.

“They’re willing to try new flavors and new cuisines, and it definitely gives retailers a lot of opportunities to be creative with spices,” he says. “Middle Eastern, Hispanic, Mediterranean, Asian. There are a lot of opportunities, for example, in prepared foods in instore delis.”