How millennials and Gen Z are changing the food landscape

Paul Tiedt | Feb 18, 2020 Paul Tiedt 02/18/20

With 72 million millennials in the United States and Generation Z nearing 91 million, restaurant and grocery brands have lots of hungry mouths to feed—but can’t expect the tactics used on previous generations to yield the same results. While some drivers of the customer experience remain constant across generations, the priorities of millennials and Gen Z are unique. How exactly do these two age groups, which make up almost 50% of the U.S. population, affect the food-purchasing landscape?

QSR continues to dominate visit share across all age groups

Not much has changed since we last measured share of stomach amongst millennials and Gen Z—quick- service restaurants outpace the second- and third-place segments (mass merchandisers and convenience stores, respectively) by 250%. The data makes it obvious everyone values a simple, stress-free experience when it comes to food shopping, and younger age groups are no different.


But restaurant—even QSR—and grocery brands shouldn’t let themselves get too comfortable. Younger generations tout different trip motivators and expectations for their food and where they buy it from.

Key drivers for grocery differ between the two age groups

Older generations are more likely to frequent grocery stores than millennial and Gen Z age groups, but what exactly drives everyone to visit varies. As expected, location convenience is the biggest motivator—but it carries less weight for millennials, and even less for Gen Z. The data shows how certain factors appeal to shoppers of all ages:      

  • Gen Z is more interested in signage/layout than millennials
  • Quality of products and merchandise selection matter more to millennials
  • Advertising has the smallest impact on trip motivation for every age group


Once grocery brands know what attracts or deters each age group, they can prioritize those motivators and scale back investments in categories that have minimal impact on the customer experience.

Impulsivity + loyalty programs influence restaurant purchasing decisions

When it comes to restaurant dining, younger generations rank Impulse Decision, Loyalty Program/Points, and Promotions much higher than the generations before them. These motivators, paired with less value placed on Previous Positive Experience and Location Convenience, hints millennials and Gen Z are more willing than older generations to branch out and try new restaurants—unless there are loyalty points on the line.  


Investing in a cross-channel loyalty program, with personalized features like location-based promotions, caters to the unique motivators of younger generations and impacts your bottom line.

Don’t let shifts in priority catch you off guard

Gen Z and millennials approach their food-purchasing decisions differently than previous generations, and it’s important for restaurants and grocery stores to take that into consideration when trying to earn their business. For a deeper dive into the data, stay tuned for our upcoming blog series on generational preferences across the food shopping landscape. To learn more about your consumers and gain actionable insights on the customer experience, contact SMG today.

Paul Tiedt | SVP, Research
Customer Experience Update