Gen Z drinking water bottles
Bottled water is the best-seller within the generation.

BOSTON — Better-for-you beverages are the libation of choice for Gen Z college students, according to a survey from the Beverage Marketing Corp. (B.M.C.) and Fluent, a college marketing and insights agency.

Gen Z scholars are studying labels as well as school subjects, according to the survey, which found that 43% of students regularly read labels and 38% read them at least sometimes. The top health claims students said influence their purchasing are “all-natural” (52%), “low-calorie” (37%), “organic” (36%), “vitamin-enhanced” (31%) and “zero-calorie” (27%). Around half of all students also said they try to avoid artificial sweeteners, flavoring, preservatives and high-fructose corn syrup in their beverages, and 55% said the sweetener they perceive as healthier is cane sugar.

Forty-nine per cent of students cited “healthy/good for you” as the reason they try new products. However, Gen Z’s beverage of choice is a category mainstay. Bottled water is the best-seller within the generation, with 43% consuming it 7+ times per week and 42% planning to drink more of it. While 59% refill their water bottles from the tap or use a filtered water system regularly, 20% still rely solely on bottled water. Those students said water is the way to go because it’s healthier, more convenient and easier to find.

“This generation knows about having to proactively make their own choices and not just take things at face value,” said Michael Carey, executive vice-president of Fluent. “And while they reach for water first, there are opportunities for other beverages to fill niche roles, if they know where to look.”

Coffee and tea
Coffee and tea are Gen Z’s top two “pick-me-up” choices.

Coffee and tea producers may have a greater chance at filling those niches, as they snagged the No. 2 and No. 3 spots, respectively, for Gen Z’s most-purchased beverages. Coffee and brewed tea are also the top two “pick-me-up” choices. Forty-nine per cent said they reach for coffee, and 15% turned to tea. Water and soda tied for third with 13%, ahead of energy drinks at 8%, which the B.M.C. said may be a key messaging opportunity for carbonated soft drinks.

“As Gen Z matures, there are exciting opportunities for our industry to engage with these consumers in a positive way,” said Michael Bellas, chairman and c.e.o. of B.M.C. “We look forward to sharing how companies can reinforce strengths and create new experiences by listening to what this newest and typically hard-to-access audience has to say.”