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The Gen Z “Say-Eat-Gap”: How Food & Ag Communicators Can Navigate Gen Zers Complex Relationship With Food

By Michele Murray, Managing Director, Food Agriculture & Ingredient, Ketchum

The Scoop on Gen Z and Their Relationship to Food

Ketchum recently took a deep look at Gen Z consumers, who are on track to surpass millennials as the largest consumer base in the U.S. by 2026, to learn more about their relationship to food and how it impacts their perceptions, attitudes, and consumption habits.

The most surprising takeaway revealed by the research was the “Say-Eat Gap”. Gen Z consumers feel pressured to change the world through their behavior and for their food choices to signal their values. However, we’re not seeing this impact their purchases yet.

For example, while 76 percent of Gen Zers say sustainability is important when purchasing food, only 16 percent say they look for “sustainably sourced ingredients” labeling when making a food choice. And while 72 percent say that animal welfare is important when buying food, only 5 percent agree that animal welfare has affected their eating patterns.

So, what does this mean? That there is a “Say-Eat-Gap” between what these young consumers say they value and what they are actually eating. This conflict creates cognitive dissonance within the target who possess these values but fail to act on them at the retail shelf. This contributes to anxiety that causes Gen Z to be more likely to attribute negative emotions to food than other generations. They are stressed and are looking to be understood by food companies.

Gen Z and Trust

While they are looking for understanding, the reality is Gen Z consumers don’t trust big industries, including food companies. It’s not to say they can’t or won’t, but 73 percent of Gen Zers surveyed believe that food companies are greedy and are only out for profits, and 72 percent believe that our food system is broken.

Trust must be earned and built. But how? Make information easy for them to find and deliver it in a credible, yet relatable, way. Over half of Gen Z consumers (56 percent) research sustainability practices before buying a new brand; however, 66 percent shared that it’s hard to find information about how the food they buy is raised and produced in the U.S. Don’t shy away from sharing your messaging loud and proud, but communicate on their preferred channels like YouTube and TikTok. When it comes to online food content, 70 percent follow a social media influencer for their food content, particularly those who are chefs, have culinary training, or have a lifestyle they strive to live.

Gen Z and Social Media

Gen Z consumers are digital natives and are more likely than other generations to look to TikTok (46 percent), YouTube (37 percent), Instagram (27 percent), and Pinterest (23 percent) for recipe information and food inspiration. They’re also more likely to trust a food or recipe trend that’s gone viral.

However, similar to the “Say-Eat-Gap”, Gen Z is facing a “media-reality” disconnect, as they find social media inspiring, yet stress-inducing. Most Gen Zers feel they spend too much time on it, and more than half (58 percent) feel social media has a negative impact on their body image. So, what can be done here? Help relieve the pressure by sharing digestible and positive content using messengers they already trust and follow.

Gen Z as Food Influencers

Gen Zers are self-described influencers and they’re actively engaged in food and agriculture conversations. Previous food research conducted by Ketchum revealed that approximately 22 percent of the population were classified as “Food eVangelists” or change agents who influence others’ food decisions. For Gen Z, half (49 percent) are qualified as “Food eVangelists,” representing a major increase over previous generations.

When surveyed, 75 percent of Gen Zers shared they are a leader, not a follower. Given their social media savvy, a simple message, like, or dislike can be easily shared to their followers. They enjoy telling their friends and family what they like to eat and enjoy. For food and ag marketers, winning over Gen Z is an efficient way to reach a broader audience.

What Can We Do to Captivate the Gen Z Audience?

While GenZers currently have conflicting feelings about food, they want their food choices to make them feel joyful, accomplished, optimistic, excited, and guilt-free. There is opportunity to meet them where they are and partner with expert voices they already trust to share messages. Marketers can help combat the helplessness many feel by showing them how their individual actions are having a positive impact.

Here are three recommendations to weave into your marketing and communications efforts:  

1). Deliver Bite-sized Information on Their Preferred Channels: Most Gen Zers are having trouble finding the information they seek. Meet them where they are, using voices they trust and utilizing the channels where they seek food information.

2). Bring the Joy of Food to Them: Finding ways to alleviate pressure and bring joy back to eating will be appreciated by this group. Help Gen Z build confidence in their choices to ease the stress they feel by transparently sharing your products’ health, nutrition, environmental benefits, and social impact. Show empathy by finding deliberate ways to illustrate how you understand their needs and are innovating new products and solutions for them. They’re doing it their way and they’ll be loyal to brands that help them forge their food future.

3). Help Them See the Impact of Their Individual Behaviors: Gen Zers have a defined set of values, but they also are bound by affordability and accessibility. Therefore, give them confidence that they’re making the right choice by showing the ways in which your organization is responsible.

Looking for ways to reach and connect with Gen Z? Contact Michele Murray (+1 303-880-9159) for support in designing your approach. Also look for Murray at this year’s Women in Agribusiness Summit in Denver, Colorado (September 24-26), as she will be a speaker, presenting “You Can’t Imagine What You Can’t Measure: Preserving Corporate Reputation”.



Michele Murray leads the Food, Agriculture, and Ingredient Practice for Ketchum, which specializes in providing communications guidance and counsel for organizations that produce food and fiber through the food supply chain.

A farmer’s daughter from Minnesota, Murray has more than 25 years of experience leading strategic communications in food and agriculture. She directed the integrated marketing communications for “Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner.” for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association for 12 years. She also led communications for Children’s Hospital Colorado Foundation and LiveWell Colorado, a public health NGO focused on addressing food insecurity and health equity. Murray has earned several PRSA Silver Anvils, National Agri-Marketing Awards, the International Association for Business Communicators Gold Quill Award, PRWeek Crisis/Issues Management Campaign of the Year and Creativity in Public Relations Award.

Murray lives in Denver, Colorado, with her husband and two daughters and loves hiking, cooking, and traveling. She is a former board member for a non-profit food access organization, GoFarm, and leads a summer series of Food Truck Nights in her neighborhood.


About Ketchum

As a leading global communications consultancy, Ketchum leverages deep industry insights to uncover unexpected connections that lead to lasting relationships and meaningful work. They are the most creatively awarded firm in its industry, are equal parts human-centered and business-focused, and espouse empathy and intelligence. Learn more at


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