Food & Drink Generational Trends

The food, drink and grocery sectors are amongst those most susceptible to shifting consumer trends in terms of motivations, attitudes and behaviours.

We are in an era where macro trends (such as transparency, personalisation, technology, healthiness, escapism, experience, sustainability and political populism) are combining and colliding to such an extent that the waters are muddied and marketers have to decipher what it means for their brands on any given day, at any given time, for any given audience.

So Mustard has set out to explore the relative priorities of four of the largest and economically significant UK Generations (Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z) to uncover their front of mind needs and motivations when it comes to buying food and drink for themselves.

Mustard conducted an online survey with 404 UK consumers (102 Gen Z Born 1995-2002; 102 Millennials Born 1977-1994; 100 Gen X Born 1966-1976; 100 Baby Boomers Born 1946-1965) – and here’s what they told us.

There are 11 primary requirements that cut across ALL the Generations. These cluster into a number of key themes.


The price has to be right, and thriftiness remains a badge of honour. Several of the most important factors for consumers align with the long-running economic squeeze and lack of wage growth in the UK. The importance of low prices and freshness (long dates) remains a top priority for many. Nor are consumers for wasting money – for many the most important factor is buying something they know they will like.


As people strive for balance in their busy lives, the importance of meals being quick and easy to prepare (and also quick and easy to eat) comes to the fore.


Healthiness is always interpreted by consumers in many different ways, but for many the priority is naturalness – which remains ahead of low fat and low sugar in consumer decision making.


Aligned with the growth of the experience economy, consumers want to experience their food and drink with more than just taste. One in four want their food / drink to be visually appealing.

There are 7 secondary requirements and priorities, which also cluster into themes.


In austere times, some consumers want to spoil themselves with something premium / better quality. Other consumers still want to “escape” by choosing something more indulgent and treaty. Others like to explore, and look out for “something different”.


The value consumers place on food provenance is not a new trend, and continues to be of importance to some. Locally sourced / grown is of importance to around one in six.


Consumers are continuing to think about ethical and responsible consumption. Our survey fits with market estimates of around 7-11% of the UK population identifying as Vegetarian (11% of our sample look out for “meat free”), and for 11% sustainability is important.


Less top-of-mind than compared with fat, sugar and unnatural additives, 11% say low salt is important to them.


Especially for the body-conscious millennials, 11% say they look out for products high in protein.

Other trends may be growing (veganism, superfoods, paleo), but remain niche overall in terms of the value consumers place on them in their decision making process.

There are some notable differences in priorities between the Generations. 

Compared with the older Generations, Generation Z place relatively more importance on products that are indulgent / treaty. They are most likely to look for products that are meat free.

Protein is of particular importance to Millennials. This “experiential” Generation also place relatively greater importance on products that are visually appealing.

The oldest survey participants – the Baby Boomers – are the least experimental, placing relatively greater value on choosing “something I know I like”.

For Millennials in particular, food and drink has become much, much more than a physiological need. It forms part of their lifestyle that they use to excite and inspire the senses, and to spoil and reward themselves with.

The waste-not want-not mentality of the post-war Generation is evident in their need for fresh products that will last. Baby Boomers appear most conscious of food waste, with freshness / long use by dates of particular importance to this Generation.

Compared with other audiences, older Generations place greater value on the importance of low fat and low salt. Seeking out locally grown / sourced products is of greater importance to Generation X and Baby Boomers.

Generation X in particular place relatively greater importance on seeking out “something different”.

What about the children?

Consumers say price becomes relatively less important when shopping with children in mind – the greater importance is placed on ensuring their children consume enough “good stuff” and not too much “bad stuff”. The top 5 most important things they look for when shopping for food and buying meals for your children are as follows:

  1. 5-a-day
  2. Natural
  3. Low sugar
  4. Freshness (long use-by dates)
  5. Quick and easy to prepare
What else did the survey tell us?
  • Consumers say they are still trying to eat more healthily – 44% say they have made a conscious decision to eat more healthily within the last month (including 61% of Generation Z).
  • They are open to experimentation – in the last month 34% cooked or baked something they’ve never tried before.
  • They are sharing their experiences – 49% have uploaded an image (photo) or video to social media at a restaurant, whilst 20% have uploaded an image (photo) or video to social media at the supermarket.


For more information on this research please contact Richard Walker or David Hickson on +44(0)161 235 5270.