Hungry for More: Generation Z’s Impact on the Food Industry
Jim Jenkins
Jim Jenkins
CEO, Universities East, Sodexo North America

As a provider of dining options for colleges and universities around the world, it’s our job to monitor what consumer trends are saying about college dining and, more importantly, what students want to eat. It’s evident that Generation Z, the generational cohort younger than millennials, is changing the workplace but many don’t realize that they are also taking the culinary industry by storm — challenging the food preferences of baby boomers and leaning toward a fresher, less-processed food movement.

Not too long ago, our modern food culture was defined by conveyor belts. Addicted to instantaneous and effortless cuisine, our culture’s preference led to unrecognizable ingredients and longer nutritional labels. Today, Generation Z, one the most culturally diverse generations yet, is setting the stage for a more ethnic eating culture with fewer directions, less structure and fewer recipes. Because 50 percent of Generation Z are of ethnicities other than Caucasian, according to an article by Food Business News, there is a clear demand for a more diverse food culture. Additionally, having been raised in the age of social media, these students are accustomed to having information at their fingertips. Instead of reading cookbooks and following written recipes, Generation Z prefers to create their own recipes or follow instructions via pictures and videos,  making them “more intuitive cooks” .

A separate article by Food Business News defines this generation as erratic eaters and speedy socialites. Unlikely to eat at every meal, Generation Z is unpredictable. When they do take the time to eat they’re usually multitasking — sometimes watching television, driving or doing homework. “Gen Z consumers value speed and digital engagement from food service, but also seek social eating venues and occasions where they can hang out with friends,” Food Business News further reports. Generation Zers are looking for dining experiences where they know their food is freshly prepared in a timely matter and allows them to connect with the people around them.

In an attempt to enhance the student dining experience, Sodexo founded the Certified Executive Chef Training Program. After weeks of intense training, a handful of Sodexo chefs take the official American Culinary Federation Certified Executive Chef examination to become verified executive chefs, one of the highest culinary achievements. Through professional development for our employees we’re creating an exceptional dining experience for all our students.

We know that Generation Z is changing the food movement as they lean toward less-processed food. Their appetite for fresher meals, with fewer ingredients, paves the way for updated food trends. The diversity of this cohort directly affects what they want to eat as they lean toward more ethnic and diverse dishes. Overall, meeting the demands of these students means integrating a more inclusive dining experience with fast service and the freshest ingredients — a combination designed to improve the quality of life of students and others.

One comment on “Hungry for More: Generation Z’s Impact on the Food Industry

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    Jim, a great article. The diversity of Gen Z and the move to more freshly prepared ingredients is also evident in the rise if plant based options and less protein from meat. This shift will also require our chefs to learn new skills and the impact on our consumers will be worth the investment.


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