According to Harvard’s medical blog, the official definition of a snack is “any smaller amount of food eaten between main meals”. Being the equal snack opportunist I am, I believe that today’s youth has evolved snacking culture beyond this to include a much broader range of finger foods, drinks, and pretty much whatever you have left over in the fridge.
As a Gen Z snacker myself, I can confidently say that a lot of ‘snacking experiences’ for my generation are driven by feelings. Considering that we are the least satisfied generation, it makes sense that I’ll reach for brightly colored Haribo gummy worms at noon. The rise of viral snacking trends like ‘lil treating’ moments, and ‘dirty soda’ modifications are another reflection of this carefree paradigm revealing that, unlike previous generations, sugar and calories aren’t our enemy. Dissatisfaction is.
In this article, I’ll look at the trends and cultural discourse surrounding Gen Z Munchers, and share insight into how snack brands can best connect with them.
GOING, GOING, GONE
The TLDR is: it’s no shocker that an international pandemic shaped the way we view snacking. But I wonder, are companies listening? After being cooped up for some rather pivotal, youthful years, the kids want to be outsideeeeeee. We reach for snacks that not only flex to our lifestyles but keep up with them. We look beyond just ‘convenience’ and to snacks that can fuel our fun, match our energy, and never take away from the moment.
Nicole Prefer, Vault49’s Strategy Director who led the strategic work across our recent Frito-Lay Minis project, shared some further insight with me: “The launch of Frito-Lay Minis has been reported as the brand’s most successful launch ever, beating sales targets and demonstrating immediate share gains. Part of the success is that we’ve been able to inject fun, shareable social moments into consumers’ days through the Minis format. It’s no surprise that portable options of people’s most beloved childhood snacks are a fan favorite.”
Brands like Frito-Lay Minis, Goldfish, and Cheez-It reign supreme for Gen Z snackers. While convenience is a leading factor, through packaging design, brand character, product size, and quantity, these snacks allow us to control our portions, share with friends, and easily enjoy. They fit our desire for snacks that are convenient for being on the go and assist in every aspect of experience on the outside.
LET’S GET REAL
‘Fake it til you make it’ does not apply here. As discourse around things like ‘greenwashing’ and diversity become more salient in Gen Z lives, we demand transparency from brands. If something sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. We’re not stupid and know BS when we see it.
That being said, Gen Z digs permissible indulgence. Unlike our parents, we believe that life is about balance and middle ground, rather than buying into over-fulfilling marketing promises and ‘all too good’ alternatives. This is backed up by a study from Mondelez showing that 82% of Gen Z use snacking as a way to treat themselves.
We see this playing out on social media. Just look at how soda has re-emerged in pop culture. No longer a sugar-heavy enemy, soda now offers a moment to relax. New snack brands like Poppi and Rotten Candy capitalize on the middle ground. Neither claim to be the most healthy, but instead provide options for consumers that want an approachable treat snack rather than a ‘miracle product’.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE JOURNEY, NOT THE DESTINATION
I’ve said it before. When it comes to brands and products, Gen Z is all about the experience. As trends like ‘girl dinners’ and social media influencers like Tiffany Magee (aka Mustard Lady) skyrocket in virality, it’s clear that Gen Z wants to experiment with food and drink.
For previous generations, great packaging might have been enough to lure consumers in, but we want more. We want products that create a moment, snacks that help us explore our interests, or unlock a new experience. Brands like Ghetto Gastro and Popadelics bring an interesting fusion of products, with an even more interesting tone of voice that speaks directly to us. We want brands that see snacking as exciting or even fun, not just as a passive, functional activity that has to be done. We want snack brands we can participate with, not just buy.
SNACK BRANDS: THREE WAYS TO CONNECT WITH GEN Z
There are many ways to successfully snack with Gen Z. For emerging and established brands, here are three ways that you can truly thrive in the eyes of the Gen Z consumer.
- Make It Experimental: Gen Z doesn’t just want a canister of chips. We want chips we can flip, tilt, and pour. Cookies we can twist, lick, and dunk. We want snacks that serve as a moment to experiment. Wacky new worlds of flavor, weird textures, anything unseen. We want something to hack or customize, then share with our friends on TikTok. Think about what your product can offer that makes the mundane experience of snacking a little bit more fun and personalized.
- Health Hack: Gen Z wants their cake and wants to eat it, too. Unlike generations before, we won’t settle for bland or restrictive snacks. Instead, we’re looking for adaptations of our favorite things. Brands like Flings and Magic Spoon elevate our childhood breakfast staples to something new and snackable for today. Whilst we are more likely to swap up, we don’t expect perfection, just some considered adjustments. Sugar and calories have never been our enemy; big corporations that promise one thing and deliver another are. Lying to us will see you #canceled.
- Dial UP YOUR VOICE: In a sea of sameness, it’s easy to get lost in the snack world sauce. Youth values those that laugh along with them, not at them. Implementing a strong 360 degree voice for your brand will help you push beyond the white noise. Create an authentic tone of voice, use humor to connect, and think about extra moments like hidden bits of copy for us to discover that make us feel included. All of this will help differentiate your offering, building community and trust around your brand. Don’t be afraid to be bold and brazen.
Overall, there are many ways brands can connect with Gen Z outside of posting TikTok’s (still admirable). Through understanding and thoughtful branding, brands can start actively playing with new generations, rather than watching from the side lines. What’s most important is to let your brand speak for itself.
Do it right, and eventually people will listen.
Article originally published on Dieline, November 3, 2023.
Want to dig in further? Take a peek at ‘Future of Snacking’, which outlines key cultural drivers and trends across the broader snacking category across generations.