Trends and Insights

Gen Z Research: How the global pandemic made chefs out of Gen Z

PurPics Insights
9th May, 2020  • 4 min read

If there’s one thing we know about Gen Z, it’s that they typically eat on-the-go. A previous study* of ours showed 63% of Gen Z college students get breakfast to-go, 53% get lunch to-go, and 47% get dinner to-go. At that rate, it had us thinking, do they even know where their kitchen is? 😉

Fast-forward a few months and we find ourselves social distancing. With restaurants, dining halls, and campuses closing, we wanted to know: how is COVID-19 impacting how Gen Z consumes food?

By conducting a study** of over 350 Gen Z consumers across the US, we got a closer look at this next generation’s eating habits since practicing social distancing. What we found were some surprising shifts in trends on everything from cooking to food delivery.

“At home” is the new “on-the-go”

Based on Gen Z’s previous on-the-go tendencies, we were anticipating to see those numbers skyrocket with the new shelter-in-place orders. Turns out, this group is actually swapping delivery and convenience with at-home cooking and grocery shopping!

57% of Gen Z-ers said they have not had food delivered to them since social distancing. In fact, only 34% said they only had food delivered 1-2 times per week. Mind = blown.

We did find something worth nothing though – when Gen Z-ers did get food delivered, DoorDash, UberEats, GrubHub, and Postmates were all near even in delivery platform usage. It was interesting that one didn’t stand out as the true winner among this demographic.

So, if they aren’t getting food delivered, we wondered… how are they feeding themselves?

Just call me Chef Gen Z

When asked if they’ve been cooking more or less prior to practicing social distancing, 72% of Gen Z college students said they’re cooking more frequently. With college classes going online, events being canceled, and shelter-in-place orders being enforced, it seems that Gen Z is hunkered down cooking all of their meals at home.

When we saw this insight, we thought: Gen Z is probably “cooking” aka microwaving pre-packaged meals. A report by Packaged Facts found adults younger than 25 are 29% more likely to consume microwaveable dinners and 26% more apt to eat frozen breakfast entrées or sandwiches. Based on their on-the-go habits and affinity for quick pre-made meals, we had a feeling our new data would show that – but we were wrong!

When the data came back, it showed Gen Z is cooking fresh. When asked which groceries they’ve stocked up on, most Gen Z-er’s answered that they’re buying grains & pasta (65%), dairy, eggs & cheese (63%), and fresh produce (64%). Even more surprising: only about 4% said their grocery hauls have included pre-made meals.

Download our latest report on how COVID-19 is impacting Gen Z consumers nationwide.

Download our latest report on how COVID-19 is impacting Gen Z consumers nationwide.

But why are they cooking?

With the rise of baking treats and breadmaking on Instagram, cooking has become a trendy habit for quarantine stress relief and entertainment. It would make sense that this is the main reason leading to Gen Z cooking more, but we found some data to show financial stress may actually be the primary reason for cooking’s increase in popularity.

Our study found that 3 out of every 4 Gen Z-ers have cooked their own meals 5+ times per week since beginning to practice social distancing. This sudden shift in eating and cooking habits could be attributed to an overall uncertainty about financial security.

Gen Z’s tendency for eating on-the-go, making premade meals, and consuming trendy snacks can add up in the spending department. But with the uncertainty of the future job market (65% said their summer job/internship has been canceled, delayed or postponed), 61% feel COVID-19 has had a negative impact on their financial stability. This shows that Gen Z consumers are most likely taking a hard look at their monthly spending and cutting back where possible.

The question we have next: Has COVID-19 permanently shifted Gen Z’s behavior or will their habits return to “normal” once the pandemic and social distancing are over?

We hope our study was able to provide you with a peek inside Gen Z’s mindset on food and cooking during COVID-19. If you’re interested in discussing further or conducting a study of your own, reach out to partnerships@purpics.com.

*Study surveyed 1500+ 19-23-year-old college students across 11 U.S. states and 15 universities. The results are representative of U.S. college students under the age of 25 (99% confidence level; 4% margin of error).

**Study surveyed 350 18-22-year-olds across 20 U.S. states and 44 universities. The results are representative of U.S. college students under the age of 25 (95% confidence level; 5% margin of error).

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