A Snack Revolution: How Minority Millennials and Gen Z Are Redefining Mealtime

It comes as a surprise to no one that time is hard to come by. And the way we take our meals is undergoing a massive transformation– especially for young Millennials and Gen Z POC. Yes, the traditional 3-square meals are still on the radar, but there’s no denying that snacks are emerging as the new go-to culinary stars. 58 percent of consumers 18-22 years old and 52 percent of 25-34-year-olds state that they eat snacks as replacements for meals, both at home and while at work. 

Let’s face it, regardless of how old you are, snacks are just plain fun, if not always the most nutritionally sound choice. Snacks offer convenience, and variety, and are often an expression of cultural identity that allows consumers to try flavor profiles that might be new to them. 

While Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers are the most popular snack among U.S. Gen Z consumers, there is evidence that snacks are becoming more central to the diet of younger consumers and they are looking for something different and more reflective of their unique cultures and backgrounds. 

This shift reflects changing consumer behaviors and presents a lucrative opportunity for brands to connect with the evolving tastes and preferences of this audience. This is a demographic set to grow even larger and more influential in the not-too-distant future. 

Snack Culture is a Thing and It’s On the Rise

For minority Millennials and Gen Z, snacks represent more than just quick bites between meals; they embody a cultural fusion and an experience of diverse flavors. From street food-inspired snacks to globally-informed fusion treats, these generations seek culinary experiences reflecting their multicultural backgrounds. 58 percent of consumers between the ages of 18 and 24 snack more than three times a day, so this is a group always on the lookout for something new to eat.

Brands like Doritos with bold flavors and culturally inspired limited-edition offerings have successfully tapped into this trend, resonating with this audience’s desire for authenticity and innovation. With its Tangy Tamarind flavor, released in the summer of 2022, Doritos channeled the cuisine of Central and South America and Asia. Tamarind has sweet and sour notes, offering an interesting flavor profile that is not as common to many Americans.

Additionally, the brand released another limited-edition flavor, Spicy Pineapple Jalapeno, crafted in collaboration with Chef Chris Wiliams as part of an outreach program to provide resources to Black community leaders. 

Convenience and On-the-Go Lifestyles

One of the driving forces behind the snackification of meals among minority Millennials and Gen Z is the desire for convenience in their increasingly busy lives. With demanding work schedules, social obligations, and a preference for mobility, these consumers are reaching for snacks that are portable, easy to eat, and require minimal prep ahead of time. 

Brands like KIND Snacks, known for their clean ingredients and convenient packaging, have capitalized on this trend by offering nutritious options that cater to the on-the-go lifestyle of the Millennial and Gen Z demographics. 

Taste Matters, But Health and Wellness is High on the List, Too

Despite the indulgent nature of many snacks, health and wellness remain a top priority for many minority Millennials and Gen Z. 

However, the approach to healthy eating with Millennials and Gen Z consumers differs from previous generations, focusing on balance and moderation rather than strict dietary restrictions. As a result, there is a growing demand for snacks that offer a combination of taste, convenience, and nutritional value. 

Brands such as RXBAR, known for their transparent labeling and simple, protein-packed ingredients, have gained traction among health-conscious Millennial and Gen Z consumers seeking guilt-free indulgence with hunger strikes. 

Then There’s Social Media– Of Course

Social media plays a significant role in shaping the snacking habits and purchasing decisions of minority Millennials and Gen Z. Platforms like Instagram and TikTok serve as virtual foodie destinations where users share snack creations, recipes, and reviews. An internal TikTok survey found that 77 percent of Gen Z consumers tried a new snack after content on its own platform inspired them to try it. 

This digital word-of-mouth has a profound impact on consumer behavior, driving trends and influencing purchasing decisions. A recent study by Morning Consult found that 68 percent of Gen Z consumers state that they trust social media influencers more than traditional celebrity endorsements. 

Brands that leverage social media and old-fashioned marketing to showcase their products in creative ways and engage with their audience authentically are well-positioned to capture the attention of this digitally savvy consumer base. 

For example, Lays regularly hosts ‘flavor contests’ called ‘Do Us a Flavor’ where followers can submit their own flavor ideas, with the winning entries becoming part of Lays’ product offerings for a limited time. Flavors like Cheesy Garlic Bread, Wasabi Ginger, and Southern Biscuits and Gravy are some of the notable examples of limited edition varieties the brand briefly added to its lineup as a result of its crowd-sourced flavor contest. 

Staying in the savory snack category, Doritos ran a “Crash the Super Bowl” campaign that invited consumers to create Doritos commercials, with the winning entries airing during the Super Bowl. This is just one of the numerous campaigns that Doritos has launched that encourage fans to create and share their own content featuring their products. 

Cultural Connection and Identity

For minority Millennials and Gen Z, snacks can also serve as a vehicle for cultural connections and identity expression. Whether it’s nostalgic snacks from their childhood or innovative fusion creations that reflect their heritage, these consumers seek out snacks that resonate with their cultural roots. 

Brands like Takis, with their fiery (and let’s face it– fun) flavors inspired by Mexican cuisine. 

Takis was introduced in the US by Barcel, a subsidiary of Grupo Bimbo, and originally targeted the Hispanic American market. But the snacks eventually caught fire with teens from all backgrounds, most likely because of their intense flavor offerings. With somewhat subversive flavor names like Angry Burger, Cobra, and Outlaw, it’s not difficult to understand how the teen market became a target consumer. 

Looking to hitch a ride on the wave of the viral Takis phenomenon, Doritos (owned by Frito Lay) released its own take on the popular rolled corn tortilla chip, called Dinamita with two flavors in 2012, with 4 new flavors introduced earlier this year. 

The bold spices and flavors in snacks like these, and Hot Cheetos reflect the vibrant culinary traditions of Latin America, resonating strongly with Millennial and Gen Z consumers who grew up enjoying similar flavors in their household or their home country. 

In Asian American communities, brands such as Boba Guys, known for their innovative takes on traditional Asian bubble milk tea, cater to this desire for cultural authenticity and representation. Bubble tea, along with other snack brands Pocky, Hello Panda, and mochi not only provide a taste of Asia stateside, but they also serve as symbols of cultural heritage and pride for consumers. 

Asian food in general is on the rise in the U.S., with snacks leading the charge. According to a Euromonitor report, sales of Asian grew by more than 135 percent over the last 25 years, with a CAGR of 11.8 percent expected through 2026. This growth is largely driven by the increasingly adventurous tastes of younger consumers demanding broader new food experiences. 

Black Millennial and Gen Z consumers also look for snacks that are reflective of their cultural heritage. Rap Snacks, a Miami-based brand known for its variety of potato chips that feature images of of-the-moment hip-hop artists, has gained a significant following among Black Gen Z and Millennials. Rap Snacks offers flavors like Bar-B-Quin’ with My Honey (featuring Cardi B) Migos Sour Cream with a Dab of Ranch and Lil Yachty’s Hot Cheese Fries. 

In 2016, Rap Snacks leaned into its hip-hop inspiration with a rebrand that included a jingle by Migos called “Dab of Ranch”. The jingle became a full song, and the brand saw its sales increase by 40 percent

Another snack that is popular among young Black consumers is plantain chips, which like other snacks, come in traditional flavors like salted, garlic, or spicy, providing consumers with a taste of Caribbean and African culinary influences. 

Indigenous Millennials and Gen Z consumers have seen a rise in the offerings from brands that cater to their desire for snacks that reflect their unique culinary heritage. Tanka is a brand that produces buffalo meat snacks that are inspired by Native American recipes and traditions. Their products, like Tanka Bars and Tanka Bites, are made with ingredients like buffalo meat, cranberries, and wild rice. 

Various brands offer frybread mixes that allow Indigenous consumers to make the traditional frybread dish at home. Frybread is a versatile food that can be enjoyed plain, with toppings like honey, or powdered sugar, or used as a base for savory dishes. Brands like Red Corn Native American Foods and Wooden Knife produce frybread mixes that are popular with young Indigenous consumers. 

What is The Future of Snacking?

As minority Millennials and Gen Z continue to drive the snacking-as-meal trend, the future of snacking looks promising for brands that can adapt to their evolving tastes and preferences. 

By offering a diverse range of flavorful, convenient, and culturally relevant snack options, brands have the opportunity to not only capture market share but also create a deeper connection with these influential demographics. 

The snack revolution among minority Millennials and Gen Z is reshaping the culinary landscape, with snacks increasingly becoming the new meals. Brands that understand and embrace the cultural nuances, convenience demands, and health-conscious attitudes of these consumers stand to thrive in this changing market.  As snack times continue to blur the lines between meals, the possibilities for innovation and engagement for brands are endless.