Decoding generational preferences in food values, taste and security

Posted: 15 January 2024 | | No comments yet

The latest Perdue Consumer Food Insights Report has unearthed different generations’ attitudes to food spending.


The December 2023 Consumer Food Insights Report has unearthed the relationships between food-date labels and the decision to discard food.

Carried out by Purdue University’s Center for Food Demand Analysis and Sustainability, the report focusses on food spending, consumer satisfaction and values, support of agricultural and food policies, and trust in information sources.

To carry out the investigation, Purdue experts conducted and evaluated the survey, asking 1,200 US consumers for their feedback.  

Back in November 2023, survey questions gauged perceptions of “use by” and “best if used by” dates. The data showed that sensory cues, such as smell and appearance, are important in the decision to eat or discard past-date food items.

Meanwhile, the December survey posed hypothetical scenarios where consumers were asked to decide about discarding or consuming a food item based on different information sets. These could include the date label alone or together with smell and appearance.

“The proportion of consumers who would discard food decreases slightly when they know the type of date label and that the food smells and appears ‘normal,’” said Joseph Balagtas, the report’s Lead Author and Professor of agricultural economics at Purdue and Center Director.

In addition, the December survey also assessed people’s concerns about the food in each scenario. “Approximately 30 percent and 45 percent of consumers indicate safety and taste, respectively, as a concern when eating foods one day past the date,” shared Balagtas.

Turning to  food sustainability and values, Purdue researchers found sizable differences in their Sustainable Food Purchasing Index when separating the sample into generational cohorts: Generation Z, born after 1996; millennials, born 1981-1996; Generation X, born 1965-1980, and boomer-plus, born before 1965.

“On average, consumers in the older Gen X and boomer-plus generations score higher on the index overall, primarily driven by high scores in the economic, taste and security subcategories. The Gen Z cohort scored the worst. However, younger generations, millennials in particular, score higher in the environmental and socially sustainable food purchasing dimensions,” continued Balagtas.

The research also found similar results when looking at food values, with younger generations being found to be more inclined to put more weight on environmental impact and social responsibility when deciding which foods to buy. Meanwhile older generations more often factor taste into their purchasing decisions.

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The results of the survey carried out in December 2023 also revealed that as food price inflation continues to decline, consumers similarly adjust their inflation estimates and expectations. Both decreased by half a percentage point from November.

“It will be interesting to see if this downward trend continues and consumers become more optimistic about food prices as we break into the new year,” said Elijah Bryant, a survey Research Analyst at the Center and Co-Author of the report.

“The expected food inflation rate over the next 12 months is the lowest it has been, 3.5 percent, since the survey’s inception two years ago.”

What’s more, differences in food spending by generation were also spotlighted. Specifically, middle generations were foud to be spending the most per week on food for their households relative to younger Gen Z and boomer-plus consumers.

“A strong correlation between spending and household size suggests that the large spending gap is likely a result of having more mouths to feed,” Bryant said.

Finally, the survey highlighted that food insecurity is “consistently higher among young adults compared to older generations”, with the average food insecurity rate among the Gen Z generation is 32 percent compared to 18 percent for millennials, 14 percent for Gen X and 6 percent for the oldest boomer-plus group.

“This is likely a result of income differences. Previous research shows that the added work experience that comes with age tends to correspond with higher income levels. Food insecurity tends to hit those with lower incomes the hardest, so this result isn’t necessarily surprising,” Bryant concluded.

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