Author: Gen Z Consumers Seek Brands with Clear Purpose

Following in the footsteps of Millennials, Gen Z has taken a liking to chains such as Olive Garden and Starbucks, proving everything is cyclical, according to Piper Sandler’s latest Taking Stock with Teens survey.

The Food Institute took a closer look at the survey and how this highly influential demographic could impact the food industry. Key findings are noted below.


We spoke to Mark Beal, author of DECODING GEN Z: 101 Lessons Generation Z Will Teach Corporate America, Marketers & Media, and professor at Rutgers University, for more insight on Gen Z purchasing trends.

“It’s less about following in the footsteps of Millennials and more about what I call, the four P’s, in food brands that Gen Zers love, purchase and advocate via social media: purpose, partnerships, posts and -plus-Ups,” said Beal.

Beal noted that Gen Z consumers are looking for brands with purpose, and that partnerships with celebrities are also appealing to the age group. “McDonald’s is leading the way with partnerships with Travis Scott, BTS and Saweetie,” he said.

Additionally, Gen Z engages with brands that are active with social media posts, such as Wendy’s.

“Food brands like Wendy’s that consistently post engaging content on what I call Gen Z’s “Big Three” Instagram, TikTok and YouTube, gain affinity with this cohort,” Beal added.

As for “plus-ups,” with the majority of Gen Z still in college or high school, most are looking for value. Beal noted that promotions such as Taco Bell’s “Steal A Base, Steal A Taco” World Series promotion each October is popular with the group.

The Piper Sandler survey looked closely at what was top of mind for Gen Z consumers:

  • What does Gen Z care about? This fall, the survey found that Gen Z is particularly focused on issues such as environment (15%) and racial equality (13%).
  • What social platforms do they engage with? Instagram continues to lead the pack in monthly usage at 81%, followed by Snapchat at 77% and TikTok at 73%.
  • Where is their money going? For male members of Gen Z, food is the top category of spend at 21%, while for females, it comes in second (21%), behind clothing.


When it comes to brands, Beal found that, of Gen Zers ages 13-24 across the U.S., 91% said they will research a company or brand to ensure they operate in a purposeful way before buying their product.

“Operating purposefully includes being environmentally friendly, supporting charities important to Gen Z and taking meaningful action in response to the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter awakening,” he said.

Piper Sandler looked at several food categories and what brands were most popular with Gen Z. Here are some key stats from fall 2021:

  • Restaurants: Among average income teens, Chick-Fil-A (15%), Starbucks (10%), McDonald’s (5%), Chipotle (4%), and Olive Garden (4%), reigned supreme, nearly the exact same from a year ago.
  • Snacks: Goldfish (12%), Lays (12%), Cheez-It (10%), Doritos (7%), and Cheetos (5%), were found to be the top snacks with Goldish taking the lead over Lays from a year ago.
    • Notably, over half of teens (53%) said they typically prefer healthy snacks. However, when asked what their favorite snack brand was, only 3% listed fruits, vegetables, or nuts.
  • Plant-Based Meat: Just 14% of teens consume plant-based meat. Of those that do, Impossible was the brand of choice among 40% of consumers, while Beyond followed with 31%.
    • Of the 86% who do not consume plant-based meat, 38% are willing to trying it, down from the 40% since spring 2021.


Regarding COVID-19 insights, 76% of teens plan to visit a retail store in the next six months. Here are more key stats on shopping channels:

  • Amazon maintained its top position with 52% of upper-income teens naming it as their favorite e-commerce site.
  • Specialty retail is the most prominent channel for teens—with 30% of their time spent in this channel