Gen Z prefers different flavors to other generations – and it’s forcing fast-food chains to change their menus.
Restaurant execs say that younger diners crave spicy food and chicken. They’re adding new dishes to lure them in.
“Spice levels generally heat up with younger generations,” Fabiola Del Rio, VP of integrated marketing communications at Panda Express, told Insider.
Gen Z and millennials are “more experimental and prefer authentic, bold, and spicy flavors more so than the generations before them,” Brendan M. Foley, the president and CEO of McCormick – which owns herb, spice, and sauce brands including Frank’s RedHot, Cholula, and Schwartz – said at the Consumer Analyst Group of New York conference in February, per Food Business News.
“Their love with heat has driven growth in inherently hot foods like hot sauce as well as in foods with hot and spicy profiles like salty snacks,” Foley continued. Sriracha sauce, for example, is a favorite among millennials.
Chipotle told Insider that Gen Z orders more of its Queso Blanco, a cheese dip with peppers for a spicy kick, than other generations, while Wendy’s noted that its Spicy Chicken Nuggets are especially popular among Gen Zers. At Panda Express, Kung Pao Chicken and Sizzling Shrimp are in high demand among Gen Zers, Del Rio said.
Subway is offering more spicy options to appeal to Gen Zers, it told Insider.
It’s not just spicy food that sets Gen Z’s flavor profile apart from other generations.
“They overwhelmingly order chicken,” Laura Dickey, CEO of Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, told Insider. “So while we’ve always had it on the menu, it hasn’t always been a feature focus. We’ve also added smoked chicken wings, and that was a direct response to Gen Z.” Taco Bell CEO Mark King similarly told Bloomberg that Gen Z customers were increasingly ordering chicken from the Tex-Mex chain rather than beef.
In a 2022 poll by Morning Consult, 13% of 1,000 US Gen Z respondents said that chicken was their favorite food, ahead of steak, burgers, sushi, and fries and behind only pizza. Chicken-sandwich brand Chick-fil-A also came top in Piper Sandler’s fall 2022 survey of restaurant brands among teens.
And where they can, Gen Zers like to get their chicken spicy, too. “Chicken sandwich offerings are essential to Gen Zs, particularly those with value price points or a spicy profile,” NPD said in a report.
Quick service restaurant chain execs also told Insider that Gen Zers tend to dine in big groups, are pulled in by influencer marketing, and aren’t afraid to splash out to make a meal an occasion.
Are you a Gen Z fast-food superfan? Or a restaurant exec who’s noticed interesting dining patterns among your Gen Z customers? Email this reporter at [email protected].
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