Welcome to Attest Investigates! In this series we use the Attest platform to test your burning questions and explore literally any topic. As a scientist, I am obsessed with experimentation, empiricism and using data to make decisions, so if you have something that needs investigating, get in touch at [email protected] – Jeremy King, CEO and Founder, Attest
Brands frequently hear that they need to be continually innovating if they want to stay relevant to a Gen Z audience. Younger people are often looking for the latest trend – but how true is this when it comes to food and drink? Do they need their food to be fashionable? Do they want the contents of their shopping cart to make a statement?
We decided to investigate this by using Attest to survey 500 consumers aged between 18-25 in the US and 500 in the UK. We aimed to explore Gen Z’s interest in new food and drink products, the reasons they’re attracted to them, and the impact inflation might be having on their openness to trying new things. Read our findings below or dig into the data for yourself.
Three key takeaways were:
- It’s Gen Z’s natural curiosity that makes them far more likely to explore new food and drink products.
- Newness is valued more in some categories than others – around 50% of Gen Z are ‘very likely’ to try innovations in sweet treats and fast food.
- Newness is important but price is more so. Around 80% say the rising cost of living is having a significant impact on their likelihood to try new F&B products.
Sweet innovations excite the most
First, let’s tackle the big question – exactly how interested are Gen Z in new food and drink products? To get a handle on this, we asked them how likely they would be to try a new innovation across seven different categories.
In every category, the respondents were far more likely to say they would try something new, than not. This is true for both the US and the UK. This indicates strong overall interest in new food and drink products, however, there was some notable variation in interest across the categories…not all F&B innovations are created equal!
Sweet treats and fast food have the most pulling power; 51.3% of American Gen Z, and 54.1% of British Gen Z say they are ‘very likely’ to be tempted by something sugary. Meanwhile, 51.5% of US respondents, and 46.9% of UK respondents are highly likely to try a new fast food offering.
Here’s how the rest of the categories shaped up (percentage of respondents ‘very likely; to try):
Soft drinks: 45.5%
Savoury snacks: 39.0%
Alcoholic beverages: 23.0%
Plant-based foods/milk: 21.6%
Soft drinks: 45.3%
Savoury snacks: 42.1%
Alcoholic beverages: 23.8%
Plant-based foods/milk: 17.8%
So, a lot of consistency in the overall order of the categories between US and UK (just with cereals holding much lower interest in the UK) – yet also with big differences in levels of interest in each category (>45% for soft drinks, down to 18-22% for plant-based products).
This is why we run research; to explore, uncover and learn, then figure out where to look and what to do next.
Also within those results, it’s interesting to note that Gen Z are not that adventurous when it comes to alcoholic drinks, but that’s probably down to the fact that young people are less likely to be drinkers than their older counterparts. This would also explain their higher interest in soft drink innovations.
Why is newness so attractive?
We wondered what drives a young person to want to try new food and drink products – is it an internal drive (for them) or external (for how they seem to others)? Or are they actually trying to use their purchasing power to change the status quo or conflate category trends with other motivations and needs, for example by buying products that are more environmentally friendly?
So, we researched that too! According to our respondents, the answer is that they simply want to discover something they might like; 78.4% of Americans and 70.35% of Brits say this. Young people are open to new experiences and apparently have a natural curiosity – this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re fickle and won’t stick with something they like, but it does mean they’re a good audience for brands to target with new innovations.
Only 4.0% of Americans and 5.0% of Brits admit that the main reason they would try a new food or drink product is to fit in with or impress their peers. This could be higher in reality but peer pressure simply isn’t stated as a major motivator.
Other reasons to try a new product include ‘to improve my diet or wellbeing’ (US: 12.8%, UK: 17.8%), suggesting that health claims and packaging/promotions that promote health-related messages could help generate interest among this age group. Meanwhile, we see less interest in buying new products to drive environmental or social change; only 4.4% (US) and 6.0% (UK) buy for this reason.
Novelty is not the be all and end all
Newness might be attractive, but just how important is it when Gen Z are making purchasing decisions? Does it outweigh other factors? We asked respondents to rank the importance of five factors when considering whether to buy a food or drink product.
It should come as no surprise that price came out as most important (by some margin) in both markets. The Gen Z demographic are not going to pay over the odds for the sake of novelty, particularly in the current economic environment.
In fact, ‘innovativeness/uniqueness’ (the original subject and hypothesis for this Attest Investigates) was deemed only the fourth most important factor in the UK, and in the US, it was last.
On the other hand, ‘perceived quality’ was ranked second in both countries, suggesting that rebranding existing products could have more profitability than bringing new ones to market. Indeed, the attractiveness of packaging was ranked the third most important factor in the UK (fourth in the US), proving that Gen Z buy with their eyes.
Intent is high, but so is inflation
Gen Z, as we’ve seen, have a high openness to new food and drink products. If they see a new product on the supermarket shelves, they’re likely to want to try it, but the realities of the economy are that they might not be able to afford to.
In our recently released US and UK Food & Beverage reports, we found that many shoppers are sticking to a tight budget when they go food shopping. Right now, trying something new is a risk that cash-strapped consumers are probably less likely to want to take. This data certainly seems to back that up, with 83.2% of US Gen Z and 81.4% of UK Gen Z stating that the rising cost of living is having a medium to big impact on their likelihood to try new food and drink products.
It’s fair to say that ‘newness’ could actually be a bad thing in the current economic climate – unless you can undercut (or at least match) incumbent products on price. This is something brands should certainly bear in mind, perhaps delaying plans to develop and launch new products until the economy is on firmer footing.