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Gen Z's Favorite Snack Is Not What You'd Expect

The teens have a surprising favorite food. Hint: It's not Hot Cheetos or Takis.

There are many reasons I am grateful not to be a teenager in the 2020s. For one thing, I find SHEIN hauls distasteful. For another, TikTok. But it's undeniable that the teens have a better snacking landscape than we did at the turn of the millennium; where our grocery store shelves were lined with SnackWell's and cereal bars, theirs overflow with ultra-chocolate Oreos and wild Pop-Tarts. Given all the exciting new options out there, I was pleasantly shocked to discover that today's teenagers still gravitate toward the classics: Goldfish crackers and Cheez-Its.

Gen Z’s spending habits, explained

This revelation comes courtesy of investment banking firm Piper Sandler, whose semiannual Taking Stock With Teens survey was just published to reflect spring 2023 spending habits among Gen Z's teenagers. Piper Sandler surveyed 5,690 teens averaging 16 years old from around the country, gathering data on their "discretionary spending patterns, fashion trends, technology, and brand and media preferences."

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The findings are broken out into various spending categories, including footwear, clothing, beauty, entertainment, and, of course, food. Within the latter category, Top Snacks are determined by teens' most "preferred" brands, and their self-reported intention to continue eating the same amount of a certain snack food and/or to seek more of it.

The snacks Gen Z loves most

While we might stereotypically associate Twitch-streaming, TikTok-influencing teenagers with bold and flashy fried snacks like Takis Fuego, the top two choices leading the pack among survey respondents were Goldfish and Cheez-It crackers: 12% of teens listed Goldfish as a preferred snack brand, while 10% named Cheez-Its. These were followed by Lay's potato chips, Doritos, and Takis, the latter of which trailed at the bottom with 4%.

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These two very similar crispy cheddar snacks have been around for 65 and 102 years, respectively—hardly shiny new products on the market. And while each of these top two snack brands does sell a selection of different flavors, their lineups are a lot more subdued than, say, Cheetos, which boasts options like Flamin' Hot Tangy Chili Fusion and Crunchy Cheddar Jalapeño. (Cheetos, notably, doesn't even crack the top five.)

The tamer taste of Goldfish and Cheez-Its might in fact be part of their appeal. Because they're baked rather than fried and have a more muted flavor than their competitors, they're easier to consume at a higher volume than anything excessively oily, spicy, or salty—and for growing teens, volume snacking is always a consideration. Plus, it's hard to say no to a snack that comes in a nearly 2-lb. carton, its pouring spout the perfect dispensing mechanism directly into eager palms.

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The Piper Sandler study notes that for 24% of male survey respondents, food was the number one spending priority. That's a lot of emphasis placed on snacking—and Gen Z's affinity for snacks like Goldfish and Cheez-Its indicates that the least outrageously extreme snacks can often be the most comforting ones.

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