Are today's youth transforming into Generation Sensible?

They hate hangovers and avoid sugar, but are today’s youth really living clean, teetotal lives?

Amplify brand director Krupali Cescau originally delved into research for LS:N Global, 17th September 2018.

Labelled Generation Sensible, are the youth of today really living sanitised lives – all clean, serene and teetotal?

Much of the anecdotal evidence we see points to a virtuous generation with the lowest rates of teenage-pregnancy, alcohol and drug use, and a tendency to flaunt vegan foods on their social platforms. But as always with this generation of consumers, the truth is more nuanced than it first appears.

Firstly, let’s talk about what they are not indulging in: sugar. Like fat in the 1990s, sugar has become public enemy number one. So we decided to find out more. In Amplify’s 2018 Young Blood research we discovered that although 92% of young people will buy a soft drink because it tastes good, 56% will also make their selection based on sugar content. This may explain the surge in sales of bottled water – which in 2017 outsold cola for the first time – as well as an increase in sugar-free alternatives.

What else are they consuming less of? Alcohol. As the UK’s Office for National Statistics recently revealed, young people aged between 16 and 24 are less likely to drink than any other age group. In fact, youth drinking rates have been declining for a decade, with six in 10 young people surveyed for our Young Blood report believing Britain’s drinking culture is out of control.

But that doesn’t mean they are teetotallers. On the one hand, they are much more discerning about what they drink as a signifier of knowledge and taste. For example, we have found that nearly half of 18–30-year-olds would prefer to drink less, better-quality alcohol.

Furthermore, their relationship with alcohol is not the regular and sustained one that many 40somethings or 50somethings are used to.

For the young, alcohol interferes with their productivity and many argue that they simply can’t afford the downtime that hangovers induce.

But there is one thing that they love to indulge in, and that's food. We found that food makes up 43% of young people’s total spending, with 65% stating they would prefer to spend their time and money on dining out with friends than drinking with them.In fact, food has become a key cultural touchpoint amid the rise of food-truck culture, pop-up dining, the introduction of ever more adventurous flavours and demand for authentic regionalised cuisine.

It’s here that we’re witnessing the Buddha bowl backlash, as young consumers welcome the revival of junk food with a vegan twist, such as jackfruit burgers and seitan chicken nuggets, which aim to prove that a vegan lifestyle doesn’t have to be boring. Not only is this demonstrating a new era of indulgence at its best, it’s indulgence with a conscience. That's because this audience cares about where their food comes from, how it is sourced and whether it is sustainable.

So what does this mean? Arguably, that young people don’t want to live puritanical lives. They enjoy indulging but are constantly considering the cost benefit of it, whether that be in downtime, health or environmental impact. Now, it’s about finding a balance.

And for brands, it’s not about solving all of the world’s problems at once with products that fit with this attitude. Instead, brands can be more transparent about their ingredients, supply chains and where they could do better in order to win over young consumers. Today’s youth don’t expect perfection, but they certainly expect and respect the effort.