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Attracting Millennials and Gen Z with innovative plant-based foods

Young adults are most likely to order plant proteins.

Sponsored by Nestlé Professional Sweet Earth

Millennials and Generation Z are driving the growth of plant-based foods. The next generation of dining consumers is reducing their meat intake for environmental and animal welfare benefits, and because they are looking for healthier meals. Operators that incorporate delicious meat analogs in innovative menu items can attract this important demographic.

According to a February 2021 survey by YPulse, nearly half (47%) of consumers age 13 to 39 say they regularly eat plant-based foods, drink plant-based beverages or do both. The survey also found that 23% of young consumers are not currently eating plant-based foods but are interested in trying them.

These two generations have slight differences in their preferences. Millennials are more likely to say they are currently eating plant-based foods. Gen Z is interested, as 30% of 13- to 19-year olds who are not eating plant-based foods want to try them.

As the audience for plant-based foods increases, foodservice operators have an opportunity to appeal to these diners by offering them innovative menu items that answer these consumer demands. Here are some ways operators can attract millennials and Gen Z:

Focus on sustainability

Sustainability is top of mind for these young consumers, and growing plants requires fewer resources than raising animals for meat. According to a 2020 report from First Insight, The State of Consumer Spending: Gen Z Shoppers Demand Sustainable Retail, 62% of Gen Z survey participants prefer to buy from sustainable brands, a figure that is on par with millennials, while only 39 percent of baby boomers agreed. Also, 73% of Gen Z are willing to pay more for sustainable products, compared to 68% of millennials.

Enhance digital communications

Millennials and Gen Z are famously adept at technology. Much of the messaging they get about where and what to eat comes from social media. They also can research everything from whether brands align with their own values to whether their favorite eatery offers interesting plant-based menu items. Operators should update their digital communications and other technology.

Offer an authentic experience

Authenticity is a buzzword for this age group, and it can refer to many things, including food that comes from a plant and not a lab. The correct wording is important too, as these young consumers do not embrace labels such as vegan or vegetarian. In fact, the Good Food Institute noted that 34% of meat-eating millennials eat four or more plant-based dinners each week. These consumers simply eat what they like, and that includes healthful, sustainable, and plant-focused.

Make it customizable and deliverable

The ability to customize an order has become standard in foodservice. Operators can benefit by responding positively to these inventive orders. Also, delivery and takeout saw huge gains during the pandemic and will likely remain popular, so foods must be wrapped or boxed in sustainable packaging that does not make the meal soggy or otherwise less appealing.

Adapt kids’ meals

Many millennials are parents, so they buy healthful proteins for their children. These kids will grow up eating a variety of foods, and likely order them later.

Young consumers are likely to be repeat purchasers of plant-based foods. According to the 2019 Michigan State University Food Literacy and Engagement Poll, 35% of consumers in the U.S. said they consumed plant-based meat in the previous year, and 90% said they would do so again. Also according to the poll, 48% of consumers who are eating plant-based foods are under 40-years old.

The future is very bright for plant-based foods, as young consumers are embracing these environmentally sustainable, health-focused, delicious proteins.