Consumption is changing and food culture is transforming. With the combination of multiple macro factors and trends which ended up sticking around, traditional approaches to food are being uprooted and tossed out the window – primarily by the younger generations.
We want food and we want it right now. We want to be able to access it without the necessity of interacting with other humans and we also want the whole transaction to be completed online.
Similarly to shopping and media, food has been enhanced by the digital age. For a while, we’ve been able to order a pizza and have it arrive in 30 minutes or less, but now we can customise it and track the process precisely, all without ever speaking to another person.
Millennials and Gen Z have less patience, a lower attention-span and need businesses to be hot off the mark to be able to keep up. ‘Nearly’ real-time service is no longer an option when it comes to meeting the needs of this generation.
Paper menus are considered needless waste and often unwelcome intruders when posted through the front door now. Instead, online ordering systems have been optimised to ensure that picking and choosing food is accessible, updated in real-time, easy, dietary restrictions are covered and everything is clearly marked to ensure there are fewer questions and more purchases.
Restaurant quality food is no longer confined to the four walls where it was made, instead, you can now have just about anything delivered to our front door. This further supports the notion that generations such as Millennials, and more so Gen Z, prefer to socialise in the comfort of their own home.
Delivery services such a Deliveroo and Uber Eats have optimised consumers ability to access any food they want without leaving their office or their home.
And when they do decide to eat out? They’re not about full-service wine and dining, they want fast and casual restaurants, with great service, affordable prices, nutritious options and authentic experiences.
Sustainability, quality, transparency
The demand for more sustainable and higher-quality food is also rising. Fast food no longer means unhealthy food, with more and more brands cropping up to offer convenient food that is also rich in nutrients and often supporting increased protein intake through plant-based sources.
Plant-based diets have grown exponentially in recent years, with over half a million vegans in the UK alone. Around a quarter of British people consume plant alternatives to dairy milk and 1 in 3 Brits have stopped or reduced their meat consumption.
In 2018, the UK launched more vegan products than any other nation across the globe, with the number of people adopting a vegan diet quadrupling between 2014 and 2018.
Although it may appear that it’s mostly younger people ditching meat and animal products, this is simply not true. Edgy meat-free brands shouldn’t disregard the older generations who are also becoming vegan or vegetarian, with the number of UK care home residents who have adopted the lifestyle trebling in the past five years.
The demand for plant-based junk food has also boomed. Many larger cities play host to some of the most convincing and delicious junk food options suitable for vegans.
Much of the success of these restaurants is due to their social media profiles on Instagram which showcases ‘food porn’ imagery, gaining thousands of followers and resulting in people travelling from miles around to sample their cuisine. These types of developments mean that it’s easier than ever to remove animal products from your diet, substituting your junk food fix for tofu, seitan or tempeh.
Smart food is another growing area within FMCG and has the core aim to provide consumers with all of the nutrients they need for that meal. One of the key players in the UK market for smart food is Huel, a sustainable food replacement company which aims to offer consumers with busy lives quick and nutritious options. Many people are opting for these types of meal replacements due to time constraints, primarily at lunch, to reduce the risk of eating convenience or junk food such as crisps.
Health-conscious Millennials and Gen Z are not only seeking out nutritious solutions to beat their hunger pangs, but they also expect accountability on the part of the brands they purchase from. Brands can no longer phone it in with vegetarian and vegan options, they need to give back, support the community and work to reduce their own carbon footprint on the world. This includes biodegradable packaging, reducing unnecessary plastics, using sustainable ingredients and paying their worker’s fair wages.
Consumer scrutiny is at an all-time high, which means that without sustainable practises, brands can quickly lose the loyalty of the younger generations. Around 40% of UK-residing Gen Z say that recycled and sustainable materials are of high importance when making their everyday purchases, alongside the need to also be affordable.
This means brands need to be prepared to take on the chin any costs associated with more sustainable packaging and ingredients, instead of passing them onto the consumer, if they have any hope of maintaining the younger generations into adulthood and beyond.
Gen Z and some Millennials have never truly known a world without access to the internet. The ability to search and find information at the click of a button is something that is deeply ingrained into their lifestyles. As a result, they are accustomed to having access to a huge range of information, bombarded by messages and research at every turn.
This is one of the key reasons why they have the approach they do to cruelty-free, health-conscious and sustainable food. For the majority of these consumers, they’ve been raised in a world where the environment is regularly in turmoil, due to global warming, deforestation, pollution. Alongside this, they have known nothing but public health warnings regarding unhealthy food, smoking and drinking and accessibility to materials regarding the treatment of farm animals have lead them to be more discerning.
The post-TV generation, in particular, is highly influenced by social media and utilise YouTube to expand their learning. Despite many parents concerns over the implications of growing up online, many young people have used the opportunity to grow their knowledge and educate themselves using the massive amounts of resources available, with one of the key areas being food preparation and cooking.
Nutrition and wellness are quickly becoming an increasingly significant element in these generational communities. Access to information on nutrition is easier than ever with influencers on social media dominating the landscape, alongside thousands of sites and blogs dedicated to educating in this domain.
Not to mention that the younger generations are using platforms such as YouTube and Instagram to pick up tips on how to cook for themselves. Entertaining and simplistic approaches to cooking, which are non-gendered and appealing to everyone, have resulted in an increase in young people who have a range of cooking and baking skills at their disposal before they even reach university. The likes of Buzzfeed, who own online food blog; Tasty, are just one of the many publishers who are interacting with younger generations through food.
Even more traditional famous chefs are using YouTube to align with how younger audiences consumer content, including the likes of Gordon Ramsay. Other creators integrate pop-culture into making food more engaging, including creating dishes from films, games and TV, such as Binging With Babish.
First We Feast’s show; Hot Ones, takes the approach of interviewing celebrities or public figures over food, whereas their further content explores local cuisines and cultures, showcasing chefs and food influencers, merging the lines between entertainment and instructional.
The trend has even stemmed over onto platforms such as Netflix, who now have a whole host of cooking and baking shows which ditch the traditional ‘cooking channel’ approach. Nailed It! hosted by Nicole Byer and Jaques Torres puts a lack of skill at the heart of the hit show which is based on social media memes of people horribly failing at baking.
Cooking on High combines cannabis and cooking to create edibles which are delicious and high inducing for the judges. Shows like this would never have made the cut, maybe even five years ago, yet here they are, adding to the dramatic evolution of food education and entertainment.
The evolution of food-related content means that cooking is no longer a chore or constrained by out-dated stereotypes. Cooking is no longer the ‘wifely’ duty of old or restricted to the Michelin star chefs. Accessibility to the art of creating food has been dramatically increased and with it has come a broader and more diverse range of influencers, presenters and chefs to inspire and delight people of all skill levels.
Content has made food fun. It’s often self-deprecating, sometimes ugly and usually experimental, but it’s real. There are less huge sterile, industrial-sized stoves and complicated utensils and more food trucks and real-home kitchens. People are proud of their creations and social media only makes it easier to share this with everyone else.
Tastes have evolved and the younger generations, in particular, are more curious than ever to expand their horizons, learn about other cultures and sample their cuisine. An increased interest in learning how to cook these dishes at home and increased demand for mainstream supermarkets to stock a wider range of ingredients, previously confined to specialist stores.
Food is changing, and brands who fail to read the room may see themselves being swiftly left behind.
Also published on Medium.