The strategist says that in a world where each generation brings its unique perspective, Gen Z is challenging mainstream grocery brands to stay relevant. This tech-savvy and trend-setting cohort is redefining the rules of engagement. 

The event, led by MMR's chief ideas officer Andrew Wardlaw, shared insights and strategies on how brands can increase their perceived value with a generation known to be feeling the pinch in challenging economic times.

The webcast drew on original research that deployed a range of modern research techniques, including:
  • unboxing experiences
  • AI-powered chatbot conversations, and
  • deep sensory immersion.

To spark fresh insight, MMR shipped products from 85 different brands across 12 categories, including food, drink and personal care, and captured over 35 hours of video content. Over 700 Gen Z participants were involved in the study.

According to Wardlaw, brands must prepare for a fundamental shift in how brands design and test products to win over Gen Z.

"This TikTok generation craves excitement and elevation. Product optimisation is beginning to feel 'old world' as Gen Z increasingly makes their presence felt. This generation wants to discover, be challenged and have experiences that excite their senses and emotions," says Wardlaw. 

"I believe that elevated sensory experiences should be the new standard in product design. Manufacturers must understand exactly what Gen Z leans into and then turn the volume up," Wardlaw adds. 

Wardlaw says, "TikTok content is shifting what Gen Z expects from everyday products. They want layered packaging that builds anticipation, unexpected sensory moments that prompt social shares and even post consumption content accessed by QR codes."

The unboxing component of this self-funded research project illustrated why influencer marketing is becoming so powerful.

"We saw multiple times how Gen Z derives value simply by buying into brands that are part of a social phenomenon. Influencer marketing not only builds trust for this generation but creates cache by offering membership of a social movement," Wardlaw adds.

The finding suggests that creating authentic relationships with influencers, involving co-creating concepts should now be a consideration for mainstream players.

One such player is Mars Food and Nutrition, owners of brands including Ben's and Dolmio.

Liz Forristal, head of insights, says, "Gen Z carries a level of stress about food and what it says about them. They need to find joy in food through flavour and cooking engagement."

Recent product launches, including Dolmio Intensify (a spicier Italian sauce) and Ben's Plant Powered Tikka Masala, achieved good engagement in the study, proving that 'mainstream' can thrive if it can deliver authentic, joyful experiences that allow for creativity and expression.

AI-assisted chatbot conversations were deployed via a brand-new app and revealed that 83% of Gen Z are open to switching from the brands they use every day. Additionally, 58% of Gen Z in the United Kingdom claim to have made a brand switch in the last three months, with 49% heading for store brands.

MMR's director of innovation Ansie Collier says that chatbot conversations revealed opportunities for innovation that empower Gen Z with a greater sense of control in their lives. It also provided a welcome dose of 'Newstalgia' — products that remind this generation of home, but with added functional benefits.

For the deep sensory immersion deconstructing the chocolate category, 12 highly screened Gen Z participants gave their verdict on the products that excited them most and why. Alice Barker from MMR sensory qual unit, and one of the team leading the study, revealed that brands such as Tony's, Hu and Feastables Mr Beast Bar were getting most of the attention.

"Creating exciting sensory experiences eclipsed heritage and expertise for our participants. Of course, quality still carries weight, but for Gen Z, it's about overall sensory theatre. Elevated sensory experience is what ultimately determined the likely adoption of brands," says Collier.

Heralding a new era of value creation, Joe Goyder, founder and MD of Huxly, unveiled the need for 'value recalibration' as the way to renovate products in tune with Gen Z's affection for brands.

"Manufacturers are getting called out on social media, which is why we developed a new approach that safeguards consumers' affection for brands. Value recalibration allows brands to understand what parts of their proposition consumers 'value most' — recognising that different dimensions deliver unequal value," Goyder says. 

Paulina Lang, MMR Group's behavioural scientist, says that new and novel product launches have the potential to appeal to Gen Z's fear of missing out (FOMO). Meanwhile, making what Gen Z loves most about products more potent can draw on loss aversion — making products more unmissable and less substitutable.

According to Wardlaw, a fundamental shift in how brands design and test products will be necessary to win over Gen Z.

"To win this generation over, the way we design and test new products needs to change," Wardlaw says. "Gen Z craves excitement and elevation. Optimisation is no longer enough. The traditional "Just About Right" scores used by many product developers may no longer suffice for this generation."

"What Gen Z wants is excitement and elevation. Brands must offer entertainment value and excite young senses and emotions," Wardlaw concludes.

To help brands fight back, MMR has created the Gen Z Resource Hub, which features category-specific videos, Growth Spaces downloads and additional sensory immersion content.

Individuals can access the Gen Z Resource Hub by clicking here.

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