What convenience means to the modern Gen Z diner

From tech to convenience stores, three panelists took to the stage at MenuDirections to discuss how the concept of convenience fits into the foodservice industry.
Abbey Lewis, Steve Mangan and Kelly Bradshaw
Abbey Lewis, Steve Mangan and Kelly Bradshaw speaking at MenuDirections. | Photo by Scott Mitchell.

Convenience is simply making things easier on diners, at least according to Steve Mangan, former senior director of dining at the University of Michigan. Mangan took to the stage during a workshop panel at this year’s MenuDirections to discuss the nuances of convenience for the modern Gen Z diner.

One way convenience is taking form in college dining programs as of late is through technology, namely through automated concepts such as smart vending.

“Some of the other innovations we're seeing is the advent of the smart refrigerators, hot, and cold,” said Mangan, who is currently a senior consultant at Brailsford and Dunlavey.  “And then you've got robotics that's about to hit the wall and hit the floor and start showing faces. So, it's really kind of interesting.”

Convenience doesn’t end with the diner, either. Mangan noted that another factor to consider is the management of technology systems, maintaining convenience for staff as well as diners.

“You're gonna need people on our teams that can actually manage that and figure out what to do with it,” said Mangan. “We invest a lot of money in these systems that we don't have the talent to manage them.”

It also seems, Gen Z diners are snacking more, said Kelly Bradshaw, director of national accounts for Del Monte Foodservice.

“They're [Gen Z] actually looking for a snack more frequently,” said Bradshaw. “24% of the individuals are actually snacking throughout the day. So, it's a very high occasion that they are snacking. So, it's important to have that convenience on the go snack for all of those Gen z's.”

Bradshaw noted that Gen Z diners are looking for convenience, especially in terms of having access to ready-to-eat food items.

Another way operators can meet this demand for convenience is through convenience stores, which are common on college campuses. In addition, some convenience stores have become major players in the foodservice industry. Convenience store, Casey’s, for instance, is known for its pizza and 7 Eleven also serves food like pizza and hotdogs.

“The industry is evolving to the extent that they're starting to see the foodservice piece of the pie raise while the tobacco piece of the pie is shrinking,” said Abbey Lewis, vice president of content strategy for Winsight Media, FoodService Director parent company.

And convenience stores foodservice presence is expected to grow, said Lewis.

“In 2024, the nominal estimated growth for convenience, their foodservice is expected to grow 7.2%” she said.



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