Gen Z consumers, immersed in a digital culture, have distinctive ideas and demands when it comes to food – and bakery is no exception. Dawn Foods explores how the younger generation is influencing innovation and trends in the bakery market.

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Imagine a world without the internet, smart phones, social media and laptops. Say that to most 16- to 25-year-olds and they will look at you in disbelief that this was once a reality. This is Gen Z, the first ‘digitally native’ generation, whose view of the world is shaping the food industry.

“Generation Z – those born between 1997 and 2012 – are growing up and now represent a sizeable force that is coming in to shake up the food industry,” explains Jacqui Passmore, Dawn Foods’ marketing manager UK and Ireland. “Not only do these younger consumers now have their own spending power, but they also have strong and distinctive demands that need to be understood by the baking industry, particularly when thinking about new product innovation.”

There is no doubt that our digital culture is here to stay and as Gen Z youngsters grow up and take up jobs, buy their own homes and raise families, they will always be influenced by it. This is also the generation that had key years in their education blighted by Covid-19 pandemic restrictions and this is influencing the values that they attach to food and consumer goods. The Gen Z consumer has expectations about what should be delivered in every aspect of their lives – from working hours and salary to how they spend their leisure time. This expectation has been created by the boom in technology over that last 20 years.

Technology transformation

According to Dawn’s Global Bakery Trends Survey 2022, which questioned more than 3000 people over a three-year period, technology has forever changed the consumer eating experience, transforming how we choose, receive and consume our favourite foods both in and out of home. From QR codes and touchscreen ordering to social sharing before, during and after the meal, there’s now a digital component to virtually every food occasion. This is the world that Gen Z consumers have grown up in and, according to a survey by Britain Thinks 2019 commissioned by the Food Standards Agency, social media in particular has a massive influence on how the values and consequent purchasing patterns of Gen Z consumers are shaped. Dawn’s Bakery Survey backs this up as nearly 72% of Gen Z consumers surveyed said that content seen on social media would influence their purchase of sweet baked goods.

Experience exploration

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While older people may despair of Gen Z, who seem to live their life through a lens, the beauty of this generation is that they are open to change and new ideas, providing bakers with real opportunities for sales, as Passmore explains.

“Life for Gen Z is about exploring experiences – they are trying fresh and disruptive food ingredients they have learnt about on online and are ready for adventure,” she says. “Dawn’s survey highlighted that four in five Gen Z consumers stated that they like to try new food experiences. The challenge for the food – and more specifically bakery – industry, is to keep up with such a fast-moving dynamic. A flavour or concept can be on-trend one minute and old hat the next. Limited-edition products are a great way for bakers to test out new and exciting flavours and textures to attract younger consumers.”

Dawn has recently introduced a new range of Authentic American Bakery | Dawn Foods to appeal to younger consumers’ thirst for innovative new flavours and Instagram-worthy bakes. Easy for the baker to use in order to create a range of recipes, especially developed by Dawn, the American Bakery product range includes a Blondie Mix, New York-Style Cheesecake Mix and a Peanut Butter.

Driven by values

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Gen Z consumers expect their bakes to deliver on both appearance and taste. But they also expect more from food, too, and are driving the trend for products and the companies behind them to also deliver on their values. According to the Britain Thinks survey, while Gen Z’s values are shaped by what social media tells them, and many believe they have a strong sense of social responsibility, it is unclear yet how this translates into current behaviours. However, one of the most tangible shifts in eating patterns driven by Gen Z’s values is the boom in veganism, fuelled by environmental and animal welfare concerns. According to Vegan Food & Living, Gen Z is embracing veganism like no other generation, due largely to the influence of social media. Indeed, in the UK, many universities are now offering all-vegan on-site eating and PETA has compiled a list of the best vegan campuses in the UK.

“This generation has grown up with veganism as an everyday part of life,” says Passmore. “The high quality of many finished vegan sweet bakery products, as well as ingredients, means that vegan is no longer an ‘add-on’ to a bakery range but an integral part of it. Good quality cakes should appeal to all, whether vegan or those wishing to minimise animal-based products in their day-to-day eating and it is an area that both bakery manufacturers and high street bakers have embraced.

“This type of conscious consumerism is being driven by the Gen Z consumer,” she adds. “Today’s younger generations are putting a great deal of thought into the foods they eat as they are aware of how their choices affect their personal health, community and planet. They’re looking for authenticity, and baked goods that they consider to be less processed. Gen Z is loyal to brands and establishments that support causes they care about and the values that are endorsed by social media influencers. Operators need to be mindful of what they themselves stand for – so consumers can feel good about supporting those values with their money.

“We are going to see more interest in sustainably produced ingredients such as palm oil-free cakes, baked goods made with seasonal ingredients, and cakes made with sustainably sourced cocoa, for example.”

Good news for bakers

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The good news for the baking industry is that Gen Z consumers have a real focus on quality and are happy to indulge in a ‘Daily Bakery Delight’. Post-pandemic, UK consumers have placed a stronger emphasis on mental health, with the younger generation particularly in tune with this and, as a result, consumers are increasingly changing their perception of sweet goods. Enjoying something sweet has gone from ‘something I feel guilty about’ to ‘something that makes me feel good’; as part of a balanced lifestyle. Dawn’s research showed that 80% of consumers feel that food can be good for their mental health. So the old adage ‘a little bit of what you fancy does you good’ takes on new significance for the Gen Z generation.

Even better for the baking industry is that 61% of Gen Z consumers, according to Dawn’s survey, are willing to pay a slight price premium for more sustainable sweet baked goods that also deliver on flavour and visual impact.

In short, Gen Z understands plant-based, vegan eating, has a penchant for snacking and is not afraid to try new flavours and formats if their social media feeds tell them to do so. They want ethical and sustainable credentials too.

The challenge for bakers is to keep up with such a fast-changing demographic, staying one step ahead of the latest social media trends as well as the ethical concerns. Introduce new products that are Insta-worthy and taste great too. Embrace veganism in your range – Dawn offers a range of vegan-suitable mixes for crème cakes, donut, cookies, muffins and brownies, as well as many naturally vegan ingredients. This means bakers can introduce vegan bakes or revamp their whole offering to appeal to all.

Maximise the use of technology too – from social media as a marketing tool to QR codes for customer ordering in-store and remotely.

Mintel data shows there are around 10 million Gen Zs in the UK – that’s around 15% of the population. So, it’s a large customer base which cannot be ignored.

To find out more about Dawn Foods’ Authentic American Bakery, click here.