Gen Z: The Ultimate Wellness Consumer
Updated: May 11
For years, millennials have left marketers and brands feeling perplexed. What do they want? How do they think? And, more importantly, where are they spending money?
While brands like Nike and Apple are said to have the highest appeal among millennials, entire industries—from alcohol to department stores and milk to soda—are blaming 23–38-year-olds for slumping sales. Even as the oldest millennials approach 40, brands are still grappling with how to relate. Meanwhile, as “marketing to millennials” continues to dominate the conversation, Generation Z is set to become the most coveted consumer. Without preparation for the generational jump, many now-popular fitness, health, and wellness brands could age out.
While it’s easy to conflate Gen Z with millennials, the former differs from its predecessor in key areas. Born between 1997 and 2012, Gen Z is currently the largest generation in America, comprising 40% of all US consumers by 2020. More importantly, though, Gen Z is estimated to wield $143B in spending power while influencing another $300B of indirect spending in the US alone.
“Compared to any generation [Gen Zers] are less trusting of brands… They have the strongest bullshit filter because they’ve grown up in an era where information was available at all times.” – Emerson Spartz, CEO of Dose
Although this generation doesn’t know a world without smartphones or social media, 67% of Gen Z prefer to shop in brick-and-mortar stores. Having witnessed the student debt crisis and the Great Recession, Gen Z is starting to save earlier than previous generations: 71% are already saving for the future. But despite being conservative with their money, Gen Z is willing to pay a premium for wellness products and healthy foods.
Overall, Gen Z takes a holistic view of health, emphasizing physical fitness, healthy eating, and mental well-being. Recognizing the latter segment, having come up in a world of increased anxiety, 72% of Gen Zers say managing stress and mental health is their most important health and wellness concern. And while less than 20% of Gen Z participate in organized religion, more than 80% have a sense of spirituality and believe in cosmic power. Combined, this emphasis on stress management and belief in spirituality could explain the growing popularity of healing crystals, mindfulness, and astrology apps that, despite conclusive evidence of their effectiveness, fall under the expansive umbrella of wellness.
On the fitness front, research from Les Mills shows that Gen Z accounted for 38% of gym sign-ups globally in 2018. As the most active membership category, 87% of Gen Z reported exercising three or more times per week. A survey from UNiDAYS provides additional context on Gen Z exercisers, with 43% of respondents working out at home, 65% using fitness apps, and 28% depending on wearable technology to track workouts.
When it comes to food, Gen Z wants healthy, convenient options. According to the Nielsen Global Health & Wellness Survey, Generation Z is more willing to pay a premium for healthy products, such as all natural, GMO-free, sustainable, or vitamin-fortified foods. As Packaged Facts noted, Gen Z members are seeking out portable and easy-to-prepare foods, but they’re also choosing healthy items when they do. As a result, there’s a growing opportunity for manufacturers and eateries to launch healthy snack or grab-and-go products that appeal to this demographic.
In terms of dietary choices, Gen Z is in favor of high-protein, low-carb foods, with 51% saying sugar is an obstacle to a healthy life. And this group is far more likely to consume plant-based products and is open to becoming vegetarian. According to American foodservice provider Aramark, nearly 80% of Gen Z plan to go meatless 1–2x per week, citing health and environmental concerns.
Keeping with the current trend in healthcare, Gen Z is dissatisfied with the current care model and, in turn, are seeking out alternative services. Accenture found that younger generations are looking for more “effectiveness, convenience, efficiency, and transparency”, with 53% of the respondents preferring telemedicine to traditional in-person visits. Additionally, Gen Z is more willing to consider Eastern medicine, like acupuncture and yoga, blurring the line between healthcare and wellness.
Finally, with respect to marketing, companies will be well-served by social media and influencer campaigns — 71% of Gen Z discover new fitness opportunities and healthy restaurants on social media, compared to only 25% who find them from television commercials. Additionally, with 70% of Gen Z watching two hours of YouTube each day and the same percentage consulting the platform before making a purchase, a mobile video presence has become mandatory for attracting a younger demographic.
Generation Z’s doubling down on the wellness lifestyle—exercising more, eating well, and prioritizing mental health and sleep—should inspire more brands pivot to join the booming wellness economy. But for those who attempt to take the same tack as what worked with Millennials may find that they’ve lost their cool.