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Opinion: Which flavour trends are driving traffic among Gen Z consumers?
Siân Yates

Siân Yates

15 May 2024

Opinion: Which flavour trends are driving traffic among Gen Z consumers?


In the dynamic flavour market, Gen Z emerges as a powerful force reshaping the food and beverage landscape. Operators and suppliers must navigate this terrain with agility, leveraging trends to captivate this discerning audience. As the quest for heightened flavours intensifies, Gen Z presents both challenge and opportunity, urging the industry to embrace innovation and diversity. Shannon O’Shields, VP of marketing at Rubix Foods, offers insight into Gen Z’s impact on the industry.


Driving and increasing traffic is often cited as one of the top concerns for restaurant operators, with 87% of quick serve restaurants (QSRs) saying that this is a major challenge, according to Datassential. However, this challenge also brings a major opportunity to drive new traffic, and 75% of QSRs also agree that attracting new customers is critical for growing sales in 2024.



So, how can operators accomplish both? With a firm focus on Gen Z.

This generation of nearly 70 million flavour-curious 12- to 27-year-olds represents 20% of the US population and has a growing disposable income of $360 billion. While sticking to a budget may be important to them, they’re unphased about opening their wallets for the right restaurant.


A quarter of Gen Z consumers are expected to eat out more in the future, the highest of any generation. That alone is reason enough for operators to narrow in on this demographic, but winning with Gen Z will require tapping into the most influential trends faster, presenting a unique challenge to operators and suppliers alike.



Diverse offerings for a diverse generation

Gen Z is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in US history, so it’s no surprise that this demographic is more drawn to globally-inspired flavours and cuisines. With 22% having at least one immigrant parent, food emulating their cultural backgrounds garners attention and incites nostalgia. These concepts drive frequent dining occurrences, too, with 1 in 5 Gen Z surveyors reporting that they eat globally-inspired foods weekly.


Gen Z’s awareness of global foods at the inception phase of Datassential’s menu adoption cycle (where all trends begin) is growing – up 15% in 2023 compared to 2022. The familiarity with diverse cuisines at inception like African, Costa Rican, Australian and even global mashups like Japanese-Peruvian are the highest among this generation.


Developing a menu with an intentional and diverse range of exotic flavours will give operators a unique advantage with this audience.


©Rubix Foods


New flavours in familiar formats

Gen Z has an experimental palate. 44% said they love trying new foods and the more unique, the better. However, about half of Gen Z wants these newer concepts prepared in familiar formats. To strike the balance of being trendy yet approachable, menu developers should introduce these new, global flavours in recognisable applications, think salsa macha on tacos, a tajin rim on margaritas or a piri piri sauce on a chicken sandwich.


And if you really want to win with Gen Z, be prepared to bring the heat! Gen Z is leading the way with their excitement for spice. Flavours like ghost pepper, Carolina reaper, chilli oil and gochujang are all projected to grow significantly over the next four years. Limited Time Offers (LTOs) are a great way to introduce these experimental flavours to the menu, by featuring them in well-known, much-loved concepts like wings, nuggets or fries.


Not only do LTOs like this drive incremental traffic and enhance the purchase intent among Gen Z, but they also give operators the chance to test the flavour before making it a permanent fixture on the menu.


©Rubix Foods


Innovation at the speed of social

Trends overall are accelerating in consumer adoption but sauces, flavours and spices are where operators have seen the most promising gains and where they should focus when introducing new flavours to their menu. Gen Z’s awareness of inception-level trends in the last year suggests that they are not only in touch with what is trending before it becomes mainstream but also setting the trends – quickly. We have social media to thank for that.


Social media channels like TikTok have a significant impact on Gen Z’s purchasing decisions. Surpassing Google as their preferred search engine, TikTok is where Gen Z goes to seek inspiration and share experiences, many of which are food-related.


#FoodReview videos have become a TikTok phenomenon, amassing more than 160 million weekly views, with 60% of that viewership coming from 18- to 24-year-olds. Operators who are nimble enough to capitalise on trends at the height of their virality – and before the next new trend swoops in – will have a leg up in the battle for Gen Z’s attention and wallet.



How operators can win Gen Z

So, how can operators take viral trends off newsfeeds and onto their menus?


Embrace new flavours: Whether these flavours are globally-inspired, off-the-chart spicy, the subject of a new TikTok trend or a classic twist to familiar formats, operators must embrace the new flavours and menu trends that Gen Z is inspiring.


Invest in an LTO strategy: LTOs attract new customers, drive traffic, grow profits and are a key tactic for testing new flavours before giving them a permanent place on the menu board.


Develop for off-premise: Delivery and to-go are vital to modern-day restaurants. Developing new concepts that can withstand an off-premise environment will be critical to capturing the thumbs-up from Gen Z.


Speed to market: Partner with suppliers who can support the short product development timelines needed to take viral trends off newsfeeds and onto menus before the opportunity is missed.

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