For years, content of all types looked a certain (perfect) way on Instagram, and audiences responded with millions of likes and follows—especially in the world of food. After all, everybody eats and who doesn't want to find amazing new things to savor? In the platform's heyday, celebrity chefs, cookbook authors and Millennial influencers alike became known for their feeds filled with gourmet dishes, artisanal cocktails and decadent baked treats looking almost otherworldly. For these content creators, the aesthetics and surroundings showcased on IG were almost as important as the food itself. And just like that, simple recipe posts quickly became all about artful lighting and styling. A bowl of rustic French stew served in vintage stone ware, a linen napkin and hammered spoon placed just within the frame; or flax and quinoa sprinkled on a butcher block backdrop next to ancient grains bread cooling on a copper rack.
But something happened between 2017 and today, and those photos don't perform nearly as well as they once did. Gen Z and Gen Alpha want all the realness on social, which means nothing too posed or perfect will resonate. In the post-pandemic age, younger consumers are looking for a more casual experience and, as a result, Instagram's food-focused influencers are entering what Eater called a "laissez-faire era" that elevates the photo dump feel over highly curated aesthetics.
So, how can buzzy restaurants, fast-casual chains, CPG brands and beverage marketers reach younger audiences who crave authenticity—aka, "ugly delicious" or "lo-fi food"? The answer probably isn't found in immediate, radical change. Because completely transforming your Instagram feed overnight to mimic what younger audiences are producing or gravitating toward won't guarantee success—and it may just alienate those you're trying to connect with the most. Consumer trust remains key, always.
Our advice? Get back to the basics before you move ahead with any big changes. 1 - Examine your brand playbook If it's architecturally solid and doesn't need an overhaul, then find ways to evolve it in small but meaningful ways to meet younger consumers where they are, without altering your foundational narratives.
2 - Look at the landscape Keep an eye on how big brands push the leading edge. Those that partner with young creators and harness the power of simpler stories and user generated content are the ones to watch in this space. Some that we're clocking: Sweetgreen, Starbucks and Quaker Oats.
3 - Change your perspective
Think of Instagram and TikTok as the new search engines. Nearly half of Gen Z prefers using social media over Google for discovering new things like places to eat, so keep this top of mind when producing content. It's all about providing consumers with actionable inspiration along with helpful information. If you deliver on value while also inviting them to try something delicious, different or exciting, they'll show up.