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A new look at Gen Z consumers and employees

From health preferences to career intentions, columnist David Orgel writes about how Gen Z’s evolving perspectives provide new opportunities for retailers.

A lot can evolve over four years in the life of a young generation. 

When I first wrote a DSN column about Gen Z consumers back in 2018, I titled the piece, “Gen Z Will Put Retail Disruption on Steroids.” 

Here’s what I wrote: “Millennials were trailblazers for introducing a range of new shopping behaviors. With Gen Z, so many of these behaviors will be on steroids. Gen Z speeds everything up.”


“It’s become clearer that Gen Z isn’t just accelerating the perspectives and behaviors of millennials, but also taking some new and surprising directions as well.”

While I believe this point is still true, it’s become clearer that Gen Z isn’t just accelerating the perspectives and behaviors of millennials, but also taking some new and surprising directions as well. Members of this group are roughly between the ages of 10 and 25 years old, with the oldest segment already in the workforce for a few years.

Here’s a curated look at some of the latest research and thought leadership on this generation that provides important insights for food and drug retailers.

A Stressed Out Generation

Gen Z is the most stressed out generation, based on the 2022 Food and Health Survey from the International Food Information Council, or IFIC. The research found that some 33% of Gen Z reports high stress levels, compared to 29% of millennials, 25% of Gen Xers and 10% of boomers. This is the only generation for which emotional/mental health surfaces in the top three health benefits sought from foods, beverages or nutrients.

[Read more: Talking to consumers about price and availability]

These data points tell me that retailers need to prioritize solutions and communications related to stress reduction and mental health because those will connect with this younger cohort.

Surprising Views on Sustainability

It’s not shocking that members of Gen Z are focused on environmental sustainability. The IFIC research found that 73% of this group believes their generation is more concerned about the environmental impact of food choices than other generations. 

However, there’s an interesting twist. Members of Gen Z are less inclined than millennials to believe their personal food choices have at least a moderate impact on the environment (50% Gen Z versus 67% millennials), the IFIC research found.

[Read more: Building strategies around local products]

Retailers should consider this twist as they develop Gen Z communications strategies related to sustainability. Stores might want to provide more education about the specific environmental impacts of products and packaging. Or, conversely, some retailers may choose to avoid the subject of impacts altogether, instead messaging more generally about sustainability.

Revealing Perspectives on Employment

While retailers and other employers struggle with retaining younger employees, an interesting piece of new research finds that “loyalty is in” for college graduates from the pandemic period. 

“An overwhelming majority (91%) of recent grads and college seniors say they care how long they stay with an employer,” according to research from the talent-focused technology company ICIMS. “Two in three (68%) see themselves staying with an employer and/or having a long-term career path.”

[Read more: Getting creative with hiring and retention]

Retailers need to understand these Gen Z motivations because this will help drive creation of strategies to help ensure employees stay and grow with organizations. 

The Story Will Evolve Further

Even as we learn more about Gen Z, it’s clear the story will continue to evolve. We’ve seen this narrative before. Millennials adapted their perspectives and behaviors as they aged and entered new life stages. The same will be true of Gen Z.

Retailers would do well to stay on top of the needs of Gen Z, from shopping preferences to career imperatives. While it’s a cliché to say it, this generation represents the future — and increasingly the present — of retail.

More Blog Posts in This Series

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