Americans’ food and nutrition beliefs and behaviors are changing, according to the 2022 Food & Health Survey released by the International Food Information Council (IFIC). IFIC, a nonprofit education and consumer research organization, conducted a survey to understand impacts on American consumers’ food choices and purchasing decisions. More than a thousand Americans ages 18-80 were surveyed with an oversample of Gen Z.
As the youngest consumer group, Gen Z adults (ages 18-24) are beginning to make their mark on industry trends. Here’s what the latest data reveal about how this emerging generation’s beliefs and attitudes are impacting their food and beverage purchases.
Environmental sustainability is on the rise from 2021 to 2022. Young adults may be helping to drive the upward trend with 73% of Gen Z respondents believing that their generation is more concerned about the environmental impact of food choices than others.
But while Gen Z is more likely to purchase foods and drinks with “small carbon footprint/carbon neutral” and “plant-based” labeling than their Boomer counterparts, they still weigh those product attributes against the price tag. Ultimately, only 15% of consumers overall would select the most expensive and most eco-friendly option, with 58% of Gen Z reporting that a mid-priced, somewhat eco-friendly product would be their most favorable selection.
Consumers are turning to labels for more than sustainability cues. In an effort to eat healthier, consumers are looking to on-pack information beyond the nutrition facts panel. Gen Z-ers are seeking out products boasting a spectrum of wellness claims, such as “all natural” or “clean ingredients”, and are prioritizing functional benefits from foods and nutrients:
- Energy/less fatigue (38%)
- Improved sleep (35%)
- Emotional/mental health (33%)
- Digestive/gut health (29%)
However, rising food costs are creating challenges around these selections, with Gen Z purchasing fewer fresh and healthy options compared to Boomers.
Online Grocery Shopping
Online grocery shopping continues to increase with 25% buying groceries online weekly compared to 20% in 2021 and 11% in 2020. Gen Z reported shopping online at least weekly (35%), and most (56%) say they always or often pay attention to labels when shopping online. Regardless of where or how Gen Z shops, labeling may impact their purchasing behavior.
Diets and Eating Patterns
In 2022, there was a significant increase in Americans under the age of 50 following diets or other eating patterns, going from 39% in 2021 to 52%. Gen Z reported motivations to diet or change eating patterns included improved physical appearance (50%) and wanting to better manage a health condition (43%).
Stress and Its Impact on Eating
Over the past six months, 56% of Americans felt very or somewhat stressed, with 73% of Gen Z reporting feeling stressed. In order to manage or reduce stress, Gen Z respondents report they’re more likely than Gen X or Boomers to seek out therapy, mindfulness or meditation. Despite seeking out mindfulness, however, 40% of Gen Z scored low on the mindfulness index (a points system created by surveyors to measure mindful eating behaviors, such as limiting distractions and noticing body cues, senses and emotions). Eating was also tied to stress, with 24% of all age groups always or often eating when feeling stressed.
Despite the increased interest in functional foods and mental health support, the preference for medication over a lifestyle change has perhaps paradoxically also increased over the past decade for all generations, with the most significant increase occurring in those under 50. Almost half of Gen Z (47%) report that they would opt for medication over a lifestyle change, even though 59% of Gen Z self-report being in excellent or very good health.
Sources of Nutrition Information
Because nutrition information keeps changing, 67% of Gen Z agrees that it is hard to know what to believe. However, trust in government agencies (USDA, EPA, FDA or CDC) regarding foods to eat/avoid has increased since 2018. Of note, Americans continue to become more familiar with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, with 58% of Gen Z indicating they know a lot/fair amount. Familiarity with MyPlate is strongest in Gen Z compared to other generations, with 65% knowing at least a fair amount.
Bottom line: Among younger and older consumers alike, price and taste continue to trump healthfulness and sustainability. Across all generations, 83% of consumers have noticed an increase in the cost of food. And particularly for Gen Z-ers just beginning to enter the workforce, price may be the biggest barrier to purchasing foods and beverages that fully align with their health and environmental values.
Dana Colla, MS, RD, LDN is an Account Executive at FoodMinds. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and received her master’s degree from Saint Louis University, where she also completed her dietetic internship with a concentration in pediatric nutrition. In her free time, Dana enjoys being outdoors, cooking, traveling, listening to music, and exploring new restaurants and shops.