Gen Z consumers demand foodservice industry steps up to sustainability challenge

30. 08. 22

The rise of the TikTok generation

The young have always dictated cultural trends. Often, this means overcoming stubborn resistance stemming from the norms established by older generations.

This is a battle currently playing out over the issue of sustainability with Gen Z increasingly proving to be the most eco-conscious generation in history. While their feelings on this issue (and many others) are often expressed online, where they can be obscured by self-referential memes and several near-impenetrable layers of irony, they are truly revealed by hard data.

According to a survey by First Insight, 75% of Gen Z consumers think sustainable purchases are more important than brand names. 75 was also the key number in a survey by DoSomething, which found three-quarters of Gen Z respondents tried to prioritise brands that operated ethically. These stats matter when considered alongside a third figure – from McKinsey – which shows that 40% of global consumers are now Gen Z, a number that will only rise as one year ticks over into the next. Their collective voice is now impossible to ignore.

The TikTok generation is inheriting the Earth, and they’re determined to treat it well.

Authenticity is key

For foodservice brands and quick service restaurants (QSRs), this presents a unique challenge. Foodservice as an industry leans heavily on pack performance and functionality to provide greaseproofing, breathability, mechanical strength, quick assembly, and so on. These aims do not necessarily go hand-in-hand with sustainability goals, as untreated fibre-based packaging is highly porous and integrally weak.

This can be a blessing and a curse with regard to Gen Z consumers. Having grown up in the digital age, and in an age where climate change has consistently grabbed the headlines, it is unsurprising that they expect businesses to do more and are forthright in expressing this publicly. However, it also means this generation is the most capable yet in terms of looking beyond headline-grabbing tags like ‘plastic-free’ and ‘recyclable’ to seek out brands that walk the walk when it comes to sustainability.

Claiming to be sustainable is no longer enough – those claims must be authentic and backed up by firm action to meet with approval from Gen Z consumers. If any claims don’t quite pass the sniff test, Gen Z consumers will be first to smell it out.

For foodservice businesses, then, the entire supply chain is important. However, as packaging is often the first touchpoint between a consumer and their purchase, and is the thing they take home and later dispose of, it is arguably the most vital. As important as supply chain efficiency and ethical material sourcing are, most consumers never see this for themselves. Adopting sustainable, minimal plastic or plastic-free packaging solutions is, therefore, a significant and tangible statement of intent that foodservice businesses can demonstrate to their younger, more eco-conscious consumers. Most importantly, making the right choice when switching to sustainable, fibre-based food packaging can create other efficiencies that improve a brand’s sustainable credibility.

Innovative solutions are needed

One of the ways a foodservice brand can reduce its carbon footprint in this way is to minimise food waste. To achieve this, it must ensure that its packaging is fit for purpose. While Gen Z consumers may value sustainability more than other demographics, they still expect quality and value for money from their purchases.

That means foodservice packaging still needs to be highly functional and suited to its application. A QSR with a takeaway service has different requirements from a food truck at a music festival, for example. The former has to keep its contents piping hot while still allowing steam and moisture to escape, preventing the food (and the packaging) from becoming soggy while in transit to its hungry recipient. The latter example requires packaging that is lightning-fast to assemble and serve, while still being compact, lightweight, and easy for the consumer to carry as they eat. It does not need to be quite so concerned with preservation as its contents will generally be eaten immediately.

Depending on the nature of the food being served, a fibre-based pack may require some polymer-based barrier coating to achieve its aims. Some may be able to use a water-based coating or no coating at all, making them completely compostable. This also solves the issue of food contamination, as the pack can be disposed of in the same bin as food scraps and residues for composting.

At Amipak, we specialise in structural innovations that optimise foodservice packaging while minimising the total materials used. For example, our pizza boxes use a specially fluted corrugate that channels steam away from the pizza, preventing condensation from forming inside the box and preserving the integrity of the crust and toppings.

These kinds of innovations, the kind that makes sustainable solutions a genuine, viable, and necessary alternative to plastic-based equivalents, are no longer simply nice-to-have for Gen Z consumers. For this demographic, they are must-have – foodservice brands must make informed choices to make their packaging more sustainable. It falls to the packaging industry to develop these innovations.

While often characterised as entitled and detached, with a reputation for caustic online takedowns of brands that do not meet their high standards, Gen Z consumers are undoubtedly highly engaged and – now – influential. They are the children of a digital world – the first to be raised on the internet, having grown up alongside social media and Web 2.0. This gives them the power to influence the world and inspire other generations to follow them. By following their lead and adopting sustainable, functional packaging, foodservice brands can deliver this to these customers.

Get in touch with us today to learn more about how our range of renewable, recyclable, or compostable foodservice packaging can boost your business.

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