So, you thought millennials were adept at shifting the focus squarely on their needs? You ain’t seen nothing yet. The leading-edge young adults of Generation Z are graduating high school, and some are already into college and university. They are driven to achieve in education and careers, and because of their vast numbers, they’re poised to shake the pillars of commerce right down to their foundations.

Who are these budding world-changers? What do they want and why do they want it? Let’s dig in to discover Gen Z and look at how they’re going to change the way your foodservice business operates, and the way it’s marketed

From pre-school to post-secondary

While the exact chronological parameters of Generation Z haven’t been nailed down yet, the best approximation spans about 20 years, placing them between the ages of four and 24, give or take. Though their spending power hasn’t fully matured (for neither have most of them), Gen Zers comprise 25% of the current population; that’s more than both millennials and boomers. Before long, that figure will swell to 33%, according to data from the United Nations. In Canada, where immigration patterns create slightly different data from our southern neighbours’, Generation Z is about 9 million strong.

Gen Z is the first generation in Canadian history you might call a “majority minority”. They’re growing up in an incredibly multicultural world; uniformity is the only “foreigner” in their lives. They are a group for whom skin colour and gender are fluid, and everyone is included. Therefore, diversity doesn’t mean to them what it meant to previous generations; it simply is, and they expect to see it wherever they look. Don’t expect a pat on the back for featuring it in your marketing, but do expect a cold shoulder for excluding it. 

Generation Z is here: Are they Millennials 2.0 or a Whole New Breed of Consumer?

How does that translate to food? There’s no such thing as “ethnic cuisine” to Gen Z; it’s just food people brought here from other countries. Going for Thai or sushi is as second nature to them as ordering pizza was for previous generations, and dishes their grandparents wouldn’t recognize are part of their evoked set.

All tech, all the time

Maybe you can remember your first colour TV, or at least your first VCR? Gen Z cannot relate – they don’t even remember the first cell phone they ever saw because they’ve been there their entire lives. They are true digital natives, the first in history. High-speed internet is seamlessly woven into their lives, they are totally connected to the sum of human knowledge and information, and they are exceptionally good at filtering through it to get what they want.

No surprise then, that Gen Z expects to have what they want, when and where they want it. And not in a petulant way either; they simply know no different. Just look at how they choose their music from streaming services or customize coffee orders. And, since they’ve always had a screen right in front of them, they’re visual communicators. Do you love emojis? Thank a Gen Zer for putting them everywhere. (You can “thank” them for The Emoji Movie, too.)

Generation Z is here: Are they Millennials 2.0 or a Whole New Breed of Consumer?

This visual generation wants to be shown, rather than told (reading is the last resort – such a slow way to give information!). Though they’re reasonably practical, they’ll also jump all over the latest, flashiest “unicorn” trends, especially the female portion of the demographic. If you can nail that, you’ll reap the benefits of free advertising in the form of posts on social media, shared through their highly connected network. For an example, look no further than charcoal ice cream. The photogenic frozen treat had its Toronto debut two years ago at a single location. Today, Googling “charcoal ice cream Toronto” presents you with a top 10 list of places to try it, despite the near total debunking of its ascribed health benefits and lack of flavour.

When ‘phoning it in’ is a good thing

Your phone has likely become an essential part of your daily routine. For Gen Zers, it’s an extension of their bodies, a 24/7 connection to their social groups, commerce, and the rest of the world. If you haven’t optimized your website for mobile, you’re already missing out on their business. Now is the time to create your digital loyalty program, send out exclusive offers online, and look for ways to ramp up interactivity with your mobile ordering platform. Why the rush? Generation Z has almost caught up to millennials for volume of foodservice deliveries!

Give yourself a self-diagnosis. Using only your cellphone, interact with your own business for an entire day. How was the experience? If you found it lacking, imagine what they think. (Consider asking a young family member to do the same, and prepare yourself for some brutally honest feedback.)

Generation Z is here: Are they Millennials 2.0 or a Whole New Breed of Consumer?

It’s not all about ordering in, though; Gen Zers love dining out, choosing to eat away from home about four times per week. In Canada, 66% of 18-to-23-year-olds patronize a foodservice outlet once a week or more, 12 points higher than the total population. And, you’ll be pleased to hear that Generation Z diners are spontaneous spenders, and despite their frugality, aren’t shy to spend a little extra when they’re out. Hit them with mobile push alerts for deals; you know they have their phones on them!

You’ll want to change your messaging, though. Unlike millennials, Gen Zers don’t dine out because their lives are too busy for groceries and cooking. They’re there because there’s something they’re craving, or, as the saying has it, to “treat yo’ self!” 

They are no more their parents than you were yours

Part of establishing your unique identity is making sure you’re not like your parents. It’s totally natural, and every generation does it. An interesting upshot of this is the creation of what you might call the “anti-rebel”; Gen Z kids are drinking much less alcohol than their parents. Ramp up your mocktail menu and look to intriguing non-alcoholic spirits to generate interest. 

They are also convinced they can do anything. That’s a good thing since they’ll be cleaning up the messes their predecessors have left behind. Oh, and Gen Zers are savers, too, who understand the high costs of venturing out into the world. Hopefully, that bodes well for the future economy. At the very least, you should expect to see an uptick in per guest expenditures; saving money on other things means having more disposable income for restaurant visits.

Generation Z is here: Are they Millennials 2.0 or a Whole New Breed of Consumer?

Intriguingly, despite being advanced technologically, they’re more financially conservative, on average, than millennials or their parents. It’s a sort of Benjamin Button effect; they’re old people in young bodies. They’ve seen global financial crises and acts of terrorism play out live on never-off news feeds, and they grew up in a world where mass shootings are a near daily occurrence. Small wonder then, that they prize financial and personal safety to a degree way out of proportion for their years.

Snack time is anytime

We’ve been tracking the snackification trend for a while now, and Gen Z seems intent on keeping it going. According to survey data, 23% of Gen Z consumers profess they’d rather make a meal of appetizers or snacks than traditional dishes served at the standard meal times. They’re opportunistic eaters, not unlike raccoons. Can you coax them out to your restaurant (or onto your app) with dining deals for slower day parts? They’ll typically respond to anything that represents value to them, and it’s a way to spread business out to off-peak times. In fact, they have little use for standard meal times, anyway. Serve them bacon and eggs any time, and they’re happy. 

Conscientious eating – it’s a thing

In last year’s Nourish Trend Report, we brought attention to the rise of ‘plant-based’ eating. Canadians from all walks and stages of life are cutting back their meat consumption. Why? A study out of Dalhousie University turned up animal welfare, the environment, and personal health as the top 3 reasons. It’s a thoroughly modern trait, this reconsideration of how best to source your protein. The vanguard of vegetarians and vegan skews younger, with those aged 35 and under being three times more likely to self-identify as either category than those 49 or older. 

Next on the chopping block for Gen Z: food waste. Leftovers go into reusable containers and then into lunch boxes instead of the garbage can. It’s part of being financially safe and kind to the planet. Offer them “supersize” menu options so they can make two meals out of one. But watch your takeout containers; are they recyclable or compostable?

Generation Z is here: Are they Millennials 2.0 or a Whole New Breed of Consumer?

Though they weren’t raised by millennials, they’ve grown up in the middle of their well-publicized obsession with foodie-ism and personal wellness. While they’re far too young for health worries (remember, they don’t drink much, and smoking is on the decline – time will tell if vaping is here to stay), they’re keen to hear your product’s story and know where the ingredients came from. Still, taste and novelty are key factors for purchase decisions. Seize the opportunity to really sell your heritage and provenance, plus show them flavours and fusions they don’t already know. 

We are just seeing the tip of this consumer iceberg, with adult-level freedoms, lifestyles, and cash flows starting to breach the surface. I’m not telling you to forget about millennials entirely, but I am telling you the time to shift your marketing strategy is now. The rise of Generation Z has already begun.


Jo-Ann McArthur is the President and Founding Partner of Nourish, a marketing agency that specializes in Food & Beverage, working across all aspects of the food ecosystem. Clients include producers, processors, retailers, manufacturers, food service, and restaurants. Nourish has offices in Toronto, Guelph, and Montreal. Want to know more? Jo-Ann can be contacted at, or sign-up for the agency’s monthly newsletter at