Gen-Z and Their Impact on Food Startups

Now that the new year's upon us, there's no shortage of prognostications about what the future holds for food, tech and the whole system of procurement, discovery and purchase. Forbes recently featured a fairly wide-ranging top 10 list from Phil Lempert (aka the "Supermarket Guru") that touched on everything from the well-worn (think sustainability) to the cutting edge (digital food landscapes, augmented transparency and more). The article is a quick read and worthwhile for anyone trying to parse where our food system is headed.

The article brings up one trend in particular that could have wide-reaching implications for the foodtech startup landscape: the rise of Generation Z. These young upstarts, individuals currently between 5 and 20 years old, could unlock some of the unknowns about "what's next" through their preferences, personalities and food purchases. Tellingly, Phil describes these new food consumers as follows:

Gen Z is more likely to eat fresh home-cooked meals and healthier QSR offerings and think that cooking is cool. They prefer stove-top to microwave cooking and are more intuitive cooks.

With their ranks swelling to 50 million people, this next generation can wield these preferences to greatly impact the food landscape.

Why is this important? Primarily because so much of the innovation in foodtech over the past 2-3 years has been focused on convenience. Look at food delivery as just one example of this trend, but also meal-kits, heat-and-eat meals and more. If the article's forward-looking assessment is correct, it's a sign that consumers driving food purchase in 5-10 years may be less concerned with getting a hot meal in 10 minutes or less, and more interested in investing their dollars behind transparent, "values-based" purchases, ones in which they are as much an active participant as a consumer. 

While this seems like a long way off, the challenge for startups will be anticipating the right balance of convenience and investment on the part of consumers. Casting a broad net, it's safe to say something like Freshly, the heat-and-eat microwave meal company in NYC is less aligned with Gen-Z preferences than a solution like Blue Apron. But, the larger note of caution is that founders need to tread carefully in bringing further convenience to the kitchen. While the current generation of eaters seems to have $10 meals ingrained in their collective psyche, Gen-Z consumers may be willing to invest more time and money into their food, if the return on their investment is worth the effort.