Meeting Gen Z & Millennials In Transition


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The snacking and treating habits of millennials and Gen Z are shifting. The NPD Group, Inc.’s Darren Seifer discusses the importance of transitioning with them.

Regardless of the industry, Gen Z and millennials should be focus areas for further understanding. They’re both going through life-stage changes impacting how they behave as consumers, especially when it comes to snacks and treats. 

While they’re both relatively large generations, that doesn’t mean they can be counted on for growth in the near future. Their overall snacking and treating behaviors are not expected to grow during the next two years, but there will still be pockets of growth representing opportunities for marketers.

This might seem counter intuitive given the rise in snack and treat consumption for the total population during the past decade. 

Tracking Snacking Through Generations

It’s important to understand that snacking and treating play different roles as consumers move through life stages. Young kids are the heaviest users of snack foods and treats, which are often provided by parents or play dates. They’re also included in many lunchboxes to round out their mid-day meals. 

As children become teenagers, their snacking between main meals typically drops. High school, homework and extracurricular activities take up their time, and they’re away from their pantries more often than younger kids. This drop continues until around the age of 40. At this point, many adults have formed families, entertain in their homes and must meet the needs of both kids and elderly family members. 

“It’s important to understand that snacking and treating play different roles as consumers move through life stages.”

Darren Seifer, The NPD Group, Inc.

Gen Z (ages 5 to 25 in 2022) is entering teenage and early adult years, which puts them right at the point when consumers typically experience drops in snack and treat consumption. The NPD Group, Inc. forecasts that through 2023 there will be a decline of 4 percent from 2020 levels in consumption in this group compared to a modest rise for the total population. This drop will be most noticeable in the afternoon when many savory and better-for-you snacks are consumed, such as crackers and fruit.

While millennials (ages 26 to 41 in 2022) are far past the life stage when snack and treat consumption quickly drops, they’re still at a point when consumption tends to lower slightly. Many of them have families and are moving along in their careers, leaving little time to snack and treat throughout the day. They are forecasted through 2023 to have a modest consumption decline of 1 percent from 2020 levels.

While this sounds like a dreary forecast for anyone banking on these generations for growth, there are a few things to consider. 

First, the Gen Z and millennial generations are huge population groups. Combined, they are about half of the American population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Capturing even a small share of their total consumption can yield significant sales. Second, not all snack and treat categories are expected to decline with these groups and represent opportunities to realign messaging or innovate into areas that will meet their needs.

Recognizing Shifts In Snacking Occasions

Starting with Gen Z, many of their palates will graduate from sweet to savory. They’ll likely become more interested in sectors including popcorn, nuts and seeds and crackers, while reducing their candy consumption. They will age out of better-for-you staples such as fruit and yogurt and look for more functional snack foods that provide satiety with healthy halos. Protein will be high on their list to provide that satiety.

And while millennials are expected to have a modest decline in snack and treat consumption, it becomes a tale of two generations — younger millennials (ages 26 to 32 in 2022) and older millennials (ages 33 to 41 in 2022) — when analyzing them in more detail. 

Younger millennials are expected to have a modest increase in morning snack occasions when healthy and practical motivations become more pronounced. They will be looking for snack foods that provide good taste with satiety, and market segments poised to grow with them are fruit snacks, nutrition bars and meat snacks. On the flip side, this means sectors including chewy candy will decline given this shift to the morning. 

Older millennials will see consumption growth in the evening when treating and rewarding are the main motivations. Many consumers in this life stage have young children, which take up much of the adults’ time. By the time evening comes and kids are put to bed, this represents time back for the parents. They’re looking for a getaway from the day and segments including potato chips and frozen novelties, which will help them achieve this mental escape, are predicted to grow.

Looking even further in the future should reveal more growth opportunities with millennials. At age 40, snacking and treating consumption starts to increase, and millennials are right on that cusp. Now is the time to garner their favor before their behaviors become routine habits later in life to position companies for future growth. 

While Gen Zs are still reducing these behaviors, now is the time to start building behaviors with them that bring nostalgic comfort later in their lives.

Contributor Info: Darren Seifer is food and beverage industry analyst for The NPD Group, Inc., where he provides insights based on NPD’s food-related research. He has authored research reports that cover topics such as concerns and strategies related to genetically modified foods, the profile of the organics consumer, the impact of baby boomers and millennials on America’s eating patterns and consumption behaviors of Hispanics in the U.S. He can be reached at [email protected].