A Generation Z college graduate recently entered the workforce at a large investment firm on the east coast. As he burned the midnight oil, he was given a choice: either make overtime pay or get two free meals per day. What might have seemed like a tough decision was actually an easy choice for him, a no-brainer.
Could it be true? The way to the hearts of Generation Z is through their stomachs?
What Zoomers eat says something about them and their beliefs, whether they’re vegan, paleo, vegetarian or flexitarian. It reveals their value system and even their personal brand. Food matters. They spend more money on food than on clothes. They grew up on poke, smoothie and noodle bowls, kombucha, rainbow bagels, fair-trade chocolate, and posting Insta-worthy food pics.
For three decades, Creative Dining Services has donned its chef’s hat and prepped, cooked and served thousands of collegiates at college campuses in 14 states. We also serve recent college grads entering the workforce at some of our nation’s largest corporations. We know Gen Z, what satisfies their discerning palate, and how you can attract them with gratis grub that they value and—in many instances—expect. Consider these key insights when you decide to offer them food as an employee benefit.
Gen Z-ers are more interested in snacking than the three-square-meals-a-day eating regimen ascribed to by previous generations. One reason for grazing could be their desire to optimize every minute of the day. That means quick bites grabbed during gaps in a booked schedule. Another explanation could be that they turn to snacks as a way to find comfort amidst the pressures of a pandemic.
Package Facts concurs with this insight in a recent study in which they found that 74% of Gen Z-ers snack in between smaller meals. It’s a trend that doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon.
Tech giant Google embraces this reality with its famous cereal bar. Rows of cereal dispensers loaded with healthy (and not so healthy) roasted grains easily doused with silky milk options give the option of snacking the day away.
Creative Dining has found that providing 24/7 (with self-checkout) micro-markets and coffee shops in corporations gives employees a chance to take a snack break without leaving the facility. Break rooms that provide an assortment of on-trend snacks and drinks are also a must.
All this grazing means that food needs to be available any time, all of the time. Past generations considered eating at regular intervals: breakfast at 7 a.m., lunch at noon, dinner at 5:30 p.m. Gen Z-ers ascribe to a different approach, “I like to eat whenever I’m hungry.” Zoomers aren’t tied to the clock. That preference adds to the demand for on-the-ready cereal bars and dynamic micro-markets filled with trendy, seasonal snacks and grab-and-gos that your new hires otherwise would leave your corporate campus to get.
Almost half of Gen Z-ers indicate they would pay more for foods they perceive as healthier, compared to 32% of Millennials, according to a Tufts Nutrition Report. More and more of them are leaning into plant-forward eating.
Menus of Change, an initiative from The Culinary Institute of America and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, defines plant-forward as:
“A style of cooking and eating that emphasizes plant-based foods—including fruits and vegetables (produce); whole grains; beans, legumes, and soy foods; nuts and seeds; plant oils; and herbs and spices—and that reflects evidence-based principles of health and sustainability.”
When asked, more Gen Z-ers identify themselves as “flexitarians,” a term that combines “flexible” and “vegetarian.” Being a vegetarian most of the time but indulging in a juicy steak on occasion marks this way of eating. The bottom line is that this generation likes meatless offerings, as emphasized in a study where 35% of Gen Z-ers expressed a desire to go meat-free in 2021.
More and more of our corporate kitchens offer meal kits. Once a week or once a month, Gen Z-ers gratefully grab one of their favorite meal kits (tacos, flatbread pizzas) on their way out of the office. (Don’t worry, their older workmates get to participate too!)
While it might feel like a contradiction to the veggie bias of this generation, there is evidence that Gen Z-ers like fast food. Gen Z-ers’ favorite chain restaurants give us a clue about meal kits and food concepts that will be successful with them. Business Insider asked 1,884 young Americans about their eating and buying habits, specifically which chains they patronize most often. Here are the top five. (Chick-Fil-A came in sixth.)
Corporate meal clubs, especially “breakfast clubs,” are gaining popularity as a way to make eating more convenient. Getting a pumpkin latte, a warm pecan pie muffin with honey butter and a cup of fresh berries three times a week goes a long way in the hearts and minds of many Zoomers. Some employee concierge programs that include dog walkers and dry cleaning services are now adding food-related subscriptions like for grocery and coffee delivery services.
Gen Z takes social and environmental responsibility to a new level. This generation wants to be part of sustainable organizations. They want to know what’s in their food and where it comes from. A study by Cone Communications showed that:
What does sustainability have to do with food? Plenty. Gen Z wants to know that their food is purchased from local and regional growers, producers, food hubs, and markets. Your hospitality partner needs a fool-proof way to vet your farmer supply chain and ensure safety and sustainability protocols are in place.
Recycling and composting (of food and container waste) are critical, as are energy and water conservation. In a recent IFMA study, 43% of Gen Z-ers said they’re more likely to visit a foodservice location if it’s environmentally friendly.
So much has been written about how to recruit and attract this next generation. You’re told to attract them with fancy foosball tables, wellness programs, napping rooms, onsite yoga, gym memberships, “bring your dog to work” days, and even more extravagant benefits like helping pay off student debt. Corporate benefits that were unheard of for past generations are being extended to high potential talent fresh off college campuses.
Companies are coming to the bargaining table with what might previously have been considered over-the-top employee benefits but are now becoming must-haves. For instance, “Couch time,” the option to work from home—especially during these long months of COVID-19—is standard, as are career advancement opportunities and mentorship. Even now, with COVID-19 at the forefront in the brains of top execs, corporate leaders remain razor-focused on solidifying their competitive positioning. The Census Bureau shows that the share of college-educated young adults in today’s workforce is higher than ever before, and they are still relentlessly recruited.
One reason is that experienced baby boomer leaders are retiring at a swift speed, leaving a gap and exposing a talent vulnerability that can’t be ignored. According to Pew Research, in the third quarter of 2020, roughly 28.6 million baby boomers reported that they were out of the workforce due to retirement. This retirement rate is up 3.2 million over the 25.4 million Boomers who retired in Q3 of 2019. Some experts speculate that COVID-19 might have played a role in this notable increase.
Regardless of the potential reasons, companies are looking to hire this next generation that’s eager to work, technologically savvy and not all about the money. Some companies are scratching their heads. What’s left to make their company stand out to a generation that grew up on iPhones, the Avengers, BTS, TikTok, Arianna Grande and Drake? Perhaps the answer is simpler than you might think: free food.
All of this is to say, don’t underestimate the draw of root beer on tap and a tasty plate of Korean barbecue ribs with a side of ramen. Good food options could tip the scales when your next talented Gen Z candidate is trying to decide whether to work for you or for your competitor.
Want to know more about what a personalized dining program can do for your organization? Contact us today.