In a world where the intersection of technology, social media and tradition continually reshapes consumer landscapes, Gen Z emerges as a pivotal demographic. Born into a digital era, this generation wields considerable influence, particularly in the realms of food, health and wellness. As retail dietitians and health and wellness professionals, it’s imperative to comprehend the unique attitudes and inspirations driving Gen Z’s food choices and to respond with advice rooted in scientific evidence in this era of social influencers who lack credentials.
Italy, arguably one of the world’s leaders in cuisine and food production, has introduced new advertising guidelines for social media influencers. AGCOM, the Italian Authority for Communication Guarantees, regulates mass communications and multimedia services and has issued “Guidelines on Influencers” who reach at least one million followers and exceed an average engagement rate of 2% on at least one of their social media platforms. This regulation follows the French consumer affairs and fraud control watchdog group, DGCCRF, which announced in March of 2023 that it would issue fines of up to 300,000 Euros and prison sentences of up to two years for social media influencers who do not comply with their regulations including those who promote health and nutrition information and supplements without disclosing science-based proof. Other nations, including here in the U.S., are sure to follow with similar standards to protect consumers.
Gen Z’s approach to food is multifaceted, prioritizing sustainability, transparency and authenticity underscoring the need for accuracy from credible sources since they increasingly rely on digital sources and social media. This generation is more likely than others to use the foods they buy and consume to make a statement about who they are and the world they want to inhabit. They seek information on the environmental impact of their foods and reward the brands that support sustainable practices.
A cornerstone of Gen Z’s consumption habits is transparency; they demand to know where their food comes from, how it’s produced and what it contains. They’re reading nutritional fact panels, ingredients, on-pack claims, scanning QR codes and conducting their own research to ensure their food aligns with their values.
Gen Z also seeks authenticity. They gravitate towards “real” food — whole, unprocessed and free from artificial additives — they are driving the attention of ultra-processed foods. The brands they support must demonstrate genuine commitment to health, wellness and social causes.
These three priorities underscore the need for retail dietitians, in particular, to work side by side with their category managers to curate the products their stores carry and promote. That is, if they want to attract and keep this important generation of more than 68 million Americans, representing one in five supermarket shoppers.
Technology plays a central role in shaping Gen Z’s food preferences. Social media platforms, particularly Instagram and TikTok, are not just entertainment venues, but sources of inspiration and information. On these platforms, as well as on retailer and brand websites, health and wellness professionals have an unprecedented opportunity to influence. By engaging with Gen Z on the media they prefer and in the manner they prefer, health and wellness professionals can provide science-based advice that resonates with this audience, debunking myths and promoting healthy eating habits. In an era of abundant information and widespread skepticism, the importance of science-based advice cannot be overstated. Gen Z, while savvy and skeptical, is also seeking authoritative voices they can trust — and that’s you!
Retail dietitians and all health and wellness professionals have the opportunity to be those voices, but only when your guidance is grounded in solid scientific research. Science-based advice provides a bulwark against the tide of misinformation and fads that flood the digital landscape.
The challenge we face, however, is that the digital realm is also rife with misinformation. Fad diets and quick-fix solutions often overshadow evidence-based recommendations, leading to confusion and potentially harmful behaviors. It’s here that the responsibility of health and wellness professionals becomes paramount. Providing clear, accurate and relatable information that offsets that from faux food influencers will help guide your Gen Z shoppers towards informed food choices.
Personalization is key for all customers, but especially for Gen Z who seek diets and wellness plans tailored to their unique needs and preferences and that also means acknowledging the diversity within Gen Z. The desire for customization reflects the broader trend towards individualized health and wellness across our industry. As health and wellness professionals, embracing this trend means leveraging data and technology to offer personalized advice both in-person and online, considering factors like genetics, lifestyle and personal goals; and that demands working across disciplines within your organization with category managers, data scientists and merchandisers to prove to the C-suite the impact on the bottom line.
Your job as health and wellness professionals in the food world is not just to inform, but to inspire.
Understanding Gen Z’s attitudes towards food — their demand for sustainability, transparency, authenticity and personalization allows us to tailor our advice to meet their needs. By engaging with them on their terms and through their channels, we can foster a dialogue that’s both meaningful and impactful.
In nurturing this generation’s relationship with food, we’re not just addressing their immediate needs. We’re investing in the future — a future where informed, health-conscious consumers drive positive change in the food industry and beyond. For retail dietitians and all health and wellness professionals, this is not just an opportunity, but a responsibility.
Let’s rise to the challenge and guide Gen Z towards a healthier, more sustainable future for us all.