Understanding Gen X’s Unique Food Preferences

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Food preferences are a complex interplay of taste, health, value, and convenience. While these factors are universally important, the way they manifest can vary across generations due to differences in life stage, culture, macro-economic conditions, and technological influences.

Often overlooked, Generation X (1965-1980), sandwiched between Baby Boomers (1956-1964) and Millennials (1981-1996), stands out for its distinctive embrace of customized traditional food.

To understand this embrace of customized tradition, let’s delve into the past. Gen X, known as the latch-key generation, grew up with little adult supervision, fostering independence and a strong emphasis on work-life balance. Raised largely unplugged, with computers existing in only 51% of households in 2000, they were the last generation to experience family dinner regularly.

A less diverse cohort, Gen X – 71% identify as Non-Hispanic White vs. 61% for Gen Z – enjoyed television shows centered on wholesome relationships (such as “Little House on the Prairie”, or “Growing Pains”) and is now at the peak of their earning potential, as noted by NBC News.

Gen X Cuisine and Food Preferences

Generation X’s engagement with food can be characterized as traditional with a twist. Whether eating at home or at a restaurant, they appreciate comfort food like meatloaf, hamburgers, pizza and soda.

Unlike the Boomers, Gen Xers are also attracted to personalized versions of traditional foods such as hamburgers or pizza with unique toppings or sodas with unique flavors like Coca-Cola freestyle fountain drinks. While Gen X explores global cuisine, its palate isn’t as diverse as Gen Z or Millennials. Gen Xers’ top three global cuisines are Mexican, Italian, and Chinese.

In contrast, Gen Z has the broadest palate with Asian cuisine, Japanese, Thai, Indian, and Chinese being much more popular, according to a Civic Science report. This may be due in part to changing USA demographics. Asian Americans grew 81% between 2000-19. making up 7% of the US population in 2021, as noted by Pew Research.

All generations express an interest in healthy, fresh food. Gen X and Boomers’ focus on foods delivering health benefits such as energy, immunity, and feeling full. They’re seeking to address health and wellness as well as addressing health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and cancer. They’re also attracted to products that tout superfoods like blueberries, kale, berries, almonds, etc.

In contrast, Gen Z and Millennials are both interested in healthy, fresh foods, and local foods often with a sustainably component.

Where and How Gen Xers Eat

Generation X is more likely to eat at home in comparison to younger generations. U.S. consumers eat a home-cooked dinner 4.6 times each week, on average, according to FMI. For Gen Z consumers, it’s 3.6 times weekly; millennials, 4.2; Gen X, 4.8; and boomers and older consumers, 5.1, as IFT reported.

This preference stems from valuing the wholesomeness of home-cooked family meals. Gen X is also most likely to hold the family recipes (77% in comparison to Gen Z’s 53%) emphasizing the importance of family traditions, the New York Post reported.

When dining out, they value family time and a leisurely experience, with on-premises service being crucial (Gen X 68%, compared to 48% for Gen Z), noted hatocorp.com.

A Common Thread for Gen X

Ultimately, while taste, health, value, and convenience are universally important in food preferences, their manifestation varies across generations. Understanding these differences is crucial for the food industry.

Generation X’s unique position, combining Boomers and Millennials eating patterns, results in an embrace of customized traditional food, seen in the popularity of customizable soft drinks, pizzas, burritos, and gourmet burgers.

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