Nobody wants to be put in a box, but when it comes to defining generations there’s some truth to the behaviors demographic groups collectively exhibit. Whatever your thoughts are on Millennials, for years marketers and researchers studied and reported on this generation like a newly discovered species. While Millennials certainly differ from older generations, much of the attention paid to them was due to the fact that they now surpass Boomers as the largest living generation in the U.S.
Now, however, focus is being trained on their successor cohort: Generation Z. Also sometimes referred to as iGen because they grew up in the age of the iPhone, those born after 1996 share some similarities with their older ilk but are by no means homogeneous. And when it comes to food trends, Gen Z is putting their money where their mouth is. While it’s too soon to tell how the global pandemic will influence Gen Z’s long-term attitudes and behaviors, here’s a look at their current point of view on food—and what it means for peanuts.
Millennials helped popularize “meatless Mondays,” but Gen Z go much further than the aspirations of reducing meat intake by one day a week. Research from foodservice group, Aramark, found that “nearly three out of four (65%) Gen Zers, specifically, find plant-forward eating appealing and 79% would go meatless, one to two times a week now or in the future.” In fact, Gen Z are helping to drive growth for specialty foods such as plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy products.
The plant-forward food trend can be attributed to a variety of reasons, but health and nutrition concerns are likely the strongest motivators. That makes peanuts a perfect choice for Gen Z consumers because peanuts provide plant-based protein, fiber and good fats to plant-forward meals that help boost flavor and increase satiety. In fact, college dining departments are increasingly adding peanuts and peanut butter to plant-forward dishes to improve both nutrition and appeal.
Another aspect about Gen Z that may contribute to their preference for plant-forward eating is the fact that they represent the most multicultural population in U.S. history. Nearly half of Gen Zers are racial or ethnic minorities, and their diverse backgrounds bring with them cultural foodways that are often naturally plant-forward. Gen Z consumers also prize experiences—like eating hyper-regional cuisine with bold flavors—over possessions. And their curiosity in cultural cuisines and experiences is further influenced by social networks like Instagram.
All that means peanuts are increasingly likely to be on the menu for Gen Z diners. From South and Southeast Asian, to West African and Latin American, many regions around the world incorporate peanuts into their cultural foodways. But that’s just scratching the surface. Peanuts are a staple in many hyper-regional cuisines, from Oaxacan to Sechuan to Senegalese, that provide the bold flavors, textures and experiences that Gen Z crave.
It’s not lost on Gen Z that they are in line to inherit the earth. Sustainability is a driving force for the post-millennial generation, and it’s factored into every decision they make, from choosing lunch to choosing where to work. According to a report from Forbes, 62% of Gen Zers say they prefer shopping from sustainable brands. They further noted that “the majority of Generation Z (54 percent) state that they are willing to spend an incremental 10 percent or more on sustainable products.”
Peanuts can play an important role in helping advance a more sustainable future for generations to come. Over the years, researchers have helped farmers increase peanut yields without increasing land use or inputs. Peanuts also require significantly less water and have more protein per ounce than other nuts, making them a more sustainable choice for consumption. Plus, all parts of the peanut plant can be used, making it a zero-waste plant. For the sustainability-minded generation, peanuts are the perfect crop to feed the future.
Attitudes and behaviors may change as a result of the pandemic’s impact on the food industry, but general interest in health and sustainability continue to increase among the population as a whole. In fact, a recent survey of 1,000 American adults conducted by the International Food Information Council found that “more than half (54%) of all consumers say the healthfulness of their food choices matters more now than it did in 2010.” It also reported that “the impact of environmental sustainability on food purchases jumped significantly — to 34% in 2020 from 27% last year.” Gen Z could further increase these interests in the years ahead, and look to peanuts to meet their needs.