Chef Q&A: The Future of Food and the Impact of Gen Z

For the past few years, millennials have been the center of universe for marketers.  And nowhere has their influence been felt more strongly than in food.  But now, Gen Z is coming along right on their heels -- leaving food professionals wondering what will be the impact from these two generations as they make demands of the food industry?  The National Peanut Board asked Chad Houser (CH), CEO and Café Momentum Chef, and Ashley Mincey (AM), MasterChef season 9 finalist and founder of Envie by Mincey, for their perspective on what’s to come.  

NPB: Gen Z is aging into the dining-out scene, how do you see this new audience disrupting your sector of the food industry? Particularly, as the industry continues to cater to the current purchasing power of millennials.

CH: Gen Z, by virtue of access to the internet and social media, have the most adventurous palate; not necessarily refined but willing and wanting to try all of the different types of cuisines.

AM:  The emergence of Gen Z into the dining out scene has made everything very visual. Taste of course is still a very sacred and personal dining out experience, but our visual stimulation has created such an immense digital footprint. There are decisions made every day on where to eat based on how tantalizing the food looks in pictures and videos- not necessarily based on reviews, or who the executive chef is. Flambéing a dish tableside used to show this grandiose factor, but now we’re smashing chocolate shells, melting cotton candy covered pork belly with hot miso glaze, and torching marshmallow covered ice cream to order. Catering to such high sensory demands could disrupt a kitchen, if it’s just not authentic to the ethos of brand. There is a fine line between the “show” and the food because neither can afford to suffer.

NPB: Almost half of the Gen Z population comes from a multicultural background. Many leaders in the food industry are trying to reflect this diversity in their food offerings. What flavors or food trends are you playing with or have noticed have started to emerge as a result? 

CH: I have noticed that there is a greater respect for older traditions.  I see more and more young people wanting to taste dishes most closely resembling how they were originally created many years ago before undergoing decades or even centuries of modifications. 

AM: I fully embrace the fearlessness we’re seeing where this Gen Z population is highlighting the bitter, the spicy, the salty, and the stinky that represent their foods’ multiculturalism. I have friends with so many stories of shame and embarrassment because their lunch was packed with flavors of home that were either fermented or full of unheard of spices as examples. Being from Miami, I grew up around multiculturalism. This isn’t new to me, but I am proud to see it change the landscape of dining options and experiences on a national level because it’s essential and creates space for those who haven’t necessarily been able to see their food’s identity outside of their home. 

NPB: It’s so important to millennials and Gen Z to know where our food is coming from. Is our food system getting more transparent? Or does transparency have its limits? 

CH: I definitely think we are in an interesting time period where consumers are beginning to outsmart corporate marketing teams; i.e. doing research, reading between the lines and asking the right questions to move the needle towards more transparency.  The only limits to transparency in today's day and age is when false information quickly goes viral on social media and causes an inaccurate understanding of the truth.

AM: Our food systems are absolutely getting more transparent. As far as the restaurant and grocery industries are concerned, they realize transparency rules, social consciousness rules, plant-based lifestyles are increasing; and millennials and Gen Z desire genuine transparency over forced transparency. All to say, as new projects, campaigns, and restaurant concepts are rolled out, there’s a better buy-in when transparency is less of a marketing strategy and more of a reflection of the brand’s DNA. 

NPB: Millennials and Gen-Z are continuing to use food as a form of self-expression. Like aligning themselves with a company that represents their values or selecting curated food experiences as a part of maintaining quality of life. In a way, this is predicted to be a “social currency” – what are your thoughts on this?  

CH: The word that immediately comes to mind is "authenticity' and I love it.  Although I am Gen X, my love for cooking comes from spending every Sunday at my grandparent's house with all of my aunts, uncles and cousins eating Sunday Supper together.  Most of the dishes came from my grandfather's backyard garden, which was the first place I ever tasted fresh from the ground tomatoes, okra, cucumbers and jalapenos to name a few.  That experience created a feeling in me that food is about more than eating.  It is about the experience of breaking bread in the proverbial sense.  I love that millennials and Gen Z gravitate toward that authentic experience.

AM: The alignment between brand and client should inform audiences how strong a brand’s social currency is. With a strong social currency, the better the client is able to identify themselves among the audience; the stronger the desire to be affiliated with the brand, and the stronger possibility of brand advocacy especially among millennials and Gen Z. This is where “influencer culture” comes into play. All in all everyone feels like they have the power to exercise their socially aware platforms helping the force of self-expression and the pride in it as well. 

About the Chefs
Chad Houser, Founder, CEO and Executive Chef at Café Momentum

Always one to add a little levity to the conversation, Chad often describes Café Momentum as “taking kids out of jail and teaching them to play with knives and fire.” But levity aside, it’s this charisma and passion to teach life, social and employment skills to Dallas’ most at-risk youth that makes Houser a hit with everyone from philanthropists and dinner-goers to the young people participating in the program. After 17 years as a chef, Chad sold his partnership of Parigi Restaurant to devote his full attention to opening Café Momentum in 2012.  Since it's opening, Cafe Momentum has been consistently ranked as one of the top restaurants in Dallas, proving that the over 800 young men and women that have participated in Cafe Momentum can and will rise to whatever level of expectation is set for them.

Additionally, Chad was featured in the Starbucks production of Upstanders Season 2, a series created to shine a light on stories of everyday Americans who are doing extraordinarily courageous things. In March of 2018, Houser was named a CNN Hero.

Ashley Mincey, Founder of Envie by Mincey

Ashley would always cook for free until her friends started to pay her for what she was making. She began selling desserts during grad school as one of two side hustles- the other was bartending at a wine cellar bistro at night. Shortly after, Ashley started her profession as a teacher and became a food sport competitor. Over the span of 2.5 years, she entered a mix of online recipe and audience-based cooking contests, and won or placed in 18 national and international competitions. Ashley was wildly driven to leave teaching to enter the culinary industry full-time, spent some time in the grocery industry, and then found herself competing in the world’s most intense home cook competition- MasterChef Season 9. Ashley earned a spot in the finale as a Top 3 competitor, and went on to attend NPB’s Next Generation Food Summit, help restaurants in her community develop healthy menu options, develop recipes for grocery and food brands, work with kids in Camp Masterchef, and has grown to be successful at catering corporate events. 

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