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How to Attract Millennials and Gen Z to Your Restaurant

Tips from the #1 plant-based brand of choice with younger generations

Millennial girl eating an Impossible taco

Get ready for a huge food industry disruption. Millennials and Gen Z are officially the largest living adult generations and they are creating the business opportunity of a lifetime for foodservice operators. These consumers are changing the food industry forever with their demand for more sustainable and planet friendly options, meaning plant-based menu items are becoming a crucial strategy for restaurants. Read more to find out why.

Millennials have surpassed Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living adult generation

According to the US Census Bureau, Millennials have surpassed Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living adult generation (72.1 million(opens in a new tab)) and have immense clout for buying. It was estimated this generation would spend $1.4 trillion in 2020(opens in a new tab). Right behind them are 67.1 million(opens in a new tab) Gen Zers who make up 40% of all consumers and have sizable buying power totaling $143 billion(opens in a new tab).

Millennials and Gen Z are Driving Demand for Plant-Based Products 

Demand for plant-based foods is skyrocketing among these younger generations because both tend to hold strong beliefs on sustainability and the environment.

Those who are purchasing plant-based foods with the most frequency are consumers ages 35 to 44(opens in a new tab). But Forbes(opens in a new tab) predicts Gen Z, motivated by the impact of industrial farming on the environment and food supply, will be a massive consumer of plant-based products. Notably, 49% of teens already consume or are willing to try plant-based meat, with Impossible Foods as the top brand of choice(opens in a new tab). A whopping 65% of Gen Zers are cutting down on meat consumption, 60% are ready to base their diets on "plant-forward foods," and 79% are interested in forgoing meat a few times a week(opens in a new tab).

It's no surprise the market for plant-based meat is expected to rise to $15 billion by 2025(opens in a new tab) as the industry evolves to keep up with the preferences of Gen Z and Millenials.

Millennials versus Gen Z: Similarities and Differences

Sustainability

While there are differences between the two generations, they both share a desire to make sustainable choices. Millennials are a driving force changing the food landscape as they introduce plant-based foods at family meals and directly influence their children. This shift means increasingly early exposure for the world’s youngest generation -- who develop a lifestyle and palate for mindful, plant-based eating much earlier than previous generations.

Gen Z is significantly less likely than older generations to believe that meat is central to the American identity and are willing to spend more on sustainable food. We see this already playing out in teens who list Impossible Foods as their #1 preferred brand of choice and state that food is their number one wallet priority.

Purchasing habits

Millennials and Gen Z also have different attitudes around money. Pivotal events like 9/11 and the Great Recession shaped the Millennial outlook on the world. In 2019, despite financial woes caused by the poor economy, rising home costs, and high unemployment levels, millennials still remain optimistic about their future and finances(opens in a new tab). On the other hand, Gen Z was poised to inherit a strong economy with low unemployment, but the COVID-19 pandemic has now changed that. As the oldest members of Gen Z have entered adulthood, their past experience of living in the Recession are leading them to be more frugal with their finances and make more practical spending decisions.(opens in a new tab)

Diversity and Trust

This upheaval during both generations' formative years has shaped their world views. Both Millennials and Gen Z tend to be suspicious of corporations and large institutions in general. A Morning Consult report(opens in a new tab) shows that Gen Z is particularly wary, with their average trust rating dropping from 56% to 46% in 2020. As the most diverse generation yet, Gen Z also tends to hold progressive views on racial and ethnic diversity issues and subject brands to intense scrutiny(opens in a new tab) regarding these sensitive topics.

Technology

Both generations also approach technology differently. Gen Zers are digital natives with almost no memory of a world before smartphones and won't think twice before using an app to order their next bite(opens in a new tab).  Millennials on the other hand grew up using DVD players, giant personal computers and dial-up internet. While they are accustomed to online ordering, they are still open to physical menus and ordering in person.

How to Market to Millennials and Gen Z 

1. Authenticity is important.

The pandemic changed the way we seek engagement from brands, and thanks to the increasing popularity of social media platforms, online video use surged(opens in a new tab). Build long-lasting relationships with younger consumers by posting behind-the-scenes videos and interviews with employees that show the real people behind the business. 

2. Your food needs to be front and center.

While the perfectly composed plate of food made popular by Instagram is on its way out, you still need to make sure your photos look appealing. Both generations still use the app to help them decide where to eat, and they prefer food that is photogenic(opens in a new tab), meaning consistent, high quality imagery is crucial.

3. Take Influencer marketing seriously.

Kantar data shows that Gen Z relies on influencers for purchase decisions(opens in a new tab): 44% of Gen Zers have made a purchase decision based on a recommendation from a social influencer and 70% follow at least one influencer on platforms like YouTube or Instagram, though TikTok and Snapchat are very popular as well.

44% of Gen Z make purchases based on recommendations from influencers.

Source: Impossible Foods Instagram(opens in a new tab)

4. Be targeted in your messaging

If you are catering to Millennials, focus on showcasing the premium experience your restaurant can offer them. If Gen Z is who you’re after, convey the high quality and value of your products in your messaging. Impossible™ Burger and Impossible™ Sausage Made From Plants resonate with both generations because our products provide a sustainable option that doesn’t sacrifice flavor or texture.

5. Diversity matters

Gen Z is the most diverse generation in American history, and would like to see that same representation reflected by the brands they shop with(opens in a new tab). Over 72% of Millennials and Gen Z reported that diversity and inclusion is an important topic for brands to address, compared to just 46% of baby Boomers. This means that you need to keep diversity front and center in all of your marketing efforts.

Learn from These Wildly Successful Restaurants

For Fat Choy, (opens in a new tab)a new Chinese-American restaurant in New York, creating delicious and creative dishes has been the number one way to attract customers. But concerns for the environment and a motivation to leave a smaller footprint also motivate chef and owner Justin Lee. Larger brands like Jamba Juice have also showcased a commitment to sustainability by putting Impossible Sausage Made From Plants on the menu, to very impressive results(opens in a new tab).

Can’t Believe It’s Not Meat(opens in a new tab) found success through the power of influencers like Tabitha Brown(opens in a new tab), a vegan social media influencer with millions of followers on TikTok. Leveraging the power of social media, celebrities, and influencers have also been vital to the success of Oakland-based barbecue spot Vegan Mob(opens in a new tab).

When Pinky Cole founded Slutty Vegan(opens in a new tab) as a delivery service in 2018, ‘Instagram was indispensable’, she told CNN(opens in a new tab). The Atlanta-based restaurant chain's account, which boasts more than 450,000 followers, has videos of celebrities like Snoop Dogg, Tiffany Haddish, Usher, and Offset waiting in line or even making plant-based burgers in the kitchen. A huge advocate of Impossible Burger, she has built an entire menu off of Impossible Burger and attracts a younger crowd by selling provocatively named menu items like the ‘One Night Stand’ and ‘Ménage à Trois.’ 

Image Source: Slutty Vegan Instagram(opens in a new tab)

Conclusions and Takeaways

If you want to appeal to Millennials and Gen Z, strike a balance between taking a stand on social issues while still maintaining a playful vibe. Leverage social media platforms to spread awareness and allow your brand story to come through. And most important of all, make sure your imagery is top quality, drool-worthy and appeals to diverse audiences.

One other way to win with this segment? Serve Impossible™ products! They are beloved by Millennials and Gen Z alike and have been proven to increase sales, demand and repeat orders. Request a sample(opens in a new tab) today to see how Impossible Foods can help you attract new customers. 

(Hot off the press)

2021 State of Meat in Foodservice Industry Report