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Retail Industry Updates

Food: The New Luxury


Are millennials and gen Z indulging in your brand?


Luxury means something different to everyone. Having the best of the best has most often translated into owning the most expensive car, home and clothing. Millennials and gen Z, however, are changing the idea of luxury by emphasizing the collection of experiences over material items. 

Havas Worldwide, a fully integrated global advertising company specializing in marketing, design, digital and corporate communications in New York City, has been tracking a movement it calls “new-fashioned luxury,” according to Global Chief Marketing Officer and Global Chief Revenue Office Matt Weiss. “It emphasizes the collection of experiences over the accumulation of goods,” he says. “And it’s marked not so much by exclusivity and astronomical price points as by factors such as authenticity, provenance and conversational currency.”

Sharing experiences of dining out, having drinks with friends or attending the grand opening of a hot new restaurant has become most common and resulted in food becoming the new luxury. “This movement has dovetailed with the explosion in foodism, leading to all sorts of opportunities for food and culinary products that allow people to explore unfamiliar cuisines, experiment with unusual ingredients and experience new tastes,” Weiss adds. 

Brady Sadler, executive vice president of growth and innovation for GYK Antler, agrees that younger generations are spending more of their disposable income on food and experiences. “Many young adults came of age in the recession and had financial boundaries placed on them, limiting their access to traditional goods and services,” he explains. “This increased the value placed on experiences that were more accessible and inherently social. Dining out or meeting friends for drinks became a natural choice for an affordable indulgence.”

Social Expression

New experiences are a priority among millennials and gen Z, and so is being the “first” to do so. “Millennials typically have more disposable income than gen Z, so they’re more apt to seek out premium food and dining experiences,” Sadler says. “For millennials, capturing and sharing Food is a luxury2these experiences is a form of expression and a way to reinforce a story they want to tell about themselves. Sharing high-end or exclusive dining experiences provides a means to demonstrate status, access and influence.”

Gen Z is more price sensitive and spending less on traditional luxury and travel, Sadler says, but adds that studies show they are willing to spend extra money to dine out. “That’s coming through in their social media, as well,” he says.

Wanda Pogue, chief strategy officer at Saatchi & Saatchi New York, says people have always sought to express who they are through the clothes they wear and possessions they own. Today, gen Z and millennials express themselves through the foods they eat. “Many consider spending $100 on a logo designer t-shirt senseless and would rather invest in an exceptionally made quality treat,” she adds. 

Both generations are expressing themselves – especially on Instagram – through their restaurant decisions and meal choices, says Jodi Sweetbaum, president and managing director of Lloyd & Co. “Not all, but many young people are elevating their status by expressing themselves through food on social media,” she adds. 

“This culture of sharing has also led to a competition,” Sadler adds. “We all like being the first to discover or experience something. Sharing a photo from an exclusive restaurant is the equivalent of a humble brag.”

Brand Adaptation

Brands should emphasize why they are desirable, including their unique values, aesthetics and story to adapt to the idea of food as the new luxury item. “If that point of view makes gen Z and millennials feel like they are in-the-know, part of a special club, bestows a flattering label on them and helps contribute to shaping their identity through social media, then even better,” Pogue says.

Food is a luxury3Understanding your target audience when it comes to deciding on product, packaging, flavors and overall experience will help brands succeed in the new food industry. For example, older millennials think more about health and the eating habits they are passing down to their children, Sadler says. 

The generation is also interested in authentic ethnic flavors and unique foods. Thirty percent of millennials consider more upscale, gourmet-like flavors and items important when dining at a fast-casual restaurant, according to Mintel. “This audience values these attributes because they remember when there were fewer food options and when the American palette was generally less complex,” Sadler says. “It’s easy to forget that many of today’s popular foods, like sushi, were not mainstream 20 years ago.”

Gen Z takes a proactive approach to health and well-being, Sadler says. “When making selections, they’re more likely to ask questions like, ‘Will it give me energy? Improve my workout? Help me relax?’” he explains. “This has led to the growth of superfoods, such as acai bowls and green juices. Its common to see brands market these items with names like ‘recover,’ ‘energize,’ ‘immunity’ and ‘focus.’”

Attention to detail not only in the food, but also in the décor is vital. Everything is fair game when it comes to a photo shoot. “If the style of food matches the environment it becomes part of the story and reinforces the restaurant’s brand,” Sadler explains. “Food blogging now rivals style and fashion blogging, and it can be seen as more relatable and accessible.”

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