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Engaging the Gen Z Consumer: Meet Them Where They Are

By Roxi Beck, CFI Consumer Engagement Director

This up-and-coming generation is like no other. Gen Z wants to know more about their food, where it comes from, how it will impact their health and the planet, and how it aligns with their values. Gen Z has a distinct set of values, behaviors, fears and priorities – and has growing purchasing power.

Born between 1997 and 2012, this generation is truly poised to change the face of food.

So, how do we engage the Gen Z consumer? The key is to meet them where they are.

New research from The Center for Food Integrity (CFI) is unveiled in “Engaging Gen Z: The Consumer, The Farmer / Rancher and The Workforce,” which takes a comprehensive look at Gen Z and provides strategic guidance on how to engage to earn trust.

Knowing the Gen Z consumer means you can tailor your approach to connect.

Offer What They Crave

A CFI Gen Z Illuminate™ Digital Cultural Insights report tells us a great deal about this young consumer segment, including five trends in eating habits that can help inform product and marketing strategy for food companies. Illuminate™ leverages digital ethnography to instantly observe millions of online interactions, revealing demographics, values, attitudes, fears, behaviors, information sources, brand preferences and more.

Brands that can meet needs in these niches have a better chance of appealing to Gen Z, according to the research.

  1. Smart Indulgences. They believe they can make their snacks and desserts fit into a healthier lifestyle by prioritizing vitamin-rich ingredients and practicing portion control.
  2. 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.
  3. Balanced Nutrition: They believe they can optimize nutrition by developing a habit of eating a wide variety of foods, especially plant-based, rather than restricting their diet.
  4. Clean Eating: They believe eating for long-term health means ditching processed ingredients and food high in sugar, salt and unhealthy fats, while increasing intake of simple, whole foods.
  5. Sustainable Eating Habits: They believe they should do what they can to reduce their carbon footprint by minimizing meat consumption and buying local ingredients.

Highlight Technology That Resonates

Technology allows the broader food industry to produce better food, more sustainably. But without trust, the innovation needed may not be accepted.

Gen Z values and champions technology, having been immersed in it since birth and seeing it as a path to solving some of the most pressing challenges in our world.

Communicate with Gen Z about the technology used to produce food and innovations on the horizon that will provide the taste, quality, health and sustainability attributes that appeal to them.

Research from CFI on why consumers accept or reject technology in food shows how to engage to earn trust. When communicating about technology in food, like gene editing, primary messages should include key drivers of trust, like food safety, sustainability, naturalness of the technology and making information readily available and easy to understand.

When possible, provide resources like independent research (particularly on food safety) and third-party verification, and make information on which food products include gene-edited or other technology easily accessible.

Get Social

No surprise. Social media is important to this consumer segment.

A Harris poll conducted in the U.S. on behalf of Sprout Social shows that 66% of Gen Z say social media is an essential part of their lives. YouTube leads the pack, according to Statista, at 79%, followed by TikTok and Instagram and 59%, Snapchat at 48%, Facebook at 43% and Twitter at 34%.

Leverage social channels in creative ways including:

  • Lead with entertaining and trending content that sparks two-way interactions while remaining authentic and transparent.
  • Partner with Gen Z influencers to create content that promotes how specific foods align with the lifestyle and health goals Gen Z wants to attain.
  • Use video as often as possible – and not just short videos; research shows longer-form videos are appealing to Gen Z, too, particularly vlogs of interest and how-to videos.
  • Offer experiential engagement opportunities like CFI’s Best Food Facts TASTE Tour in Texas (highlighted in the guide), giving Gen Z a backstage pass to how food is grown, raised and produced, and an opportunity to share with their online audiences.

In addition, engage trusted, authentic spokespeople who are relatable, show integrity and share Gen Z values. Credentialed individuals who fit the bill are even more influential, as Gen Z values third-party objectivity.


Focus on a cause. Gen Zs are more likely to choose one brand over another based on ethics and values. As a company, do you operate on a distinct set of principles and do you amplify them? What causes do you support? Gen Z wants to know, so make sure your message is clear.

The segment is particularly interested in sustainability and climate change is on their minds. One in three say climate change has a major impact on their everyday food and beverage behaviors and 75% agree the world is at a tipping point.

There’s a lot more to learn. Dig into the guide, a one-stop shop that helps you understand a powerful generation looking to make its mark. Reach out with your questions. We’re here to help.

And let us know if you’d like an Engage Gen Z training for your organization, or a presentation or Gen Z consumer panel at your next event.  We’re happy to discuss hosting an influencer tour as well, which helps amplify to Gen Z peer audiences the good news about what’s happening today in food and agriculture.