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Gen Z’s love for food-inspired beauty: what’s it all about? Photo: Property of Rhode

Gen Z’s love for food-inspired beauty: what’s it all about?

By Effy Blanchard, Copywriter at ReflexLondon

Blueberry milk nails, glazed donut nails, cookie butter hair, cinnamon toast hair, latte makeup… we’re sensing a theme. Sure, these trends sound delicious, but all look very familiar. Old aesthetics are getting a rebrand, and we’re fascinated. What is the deal with all these food-inspired beauty trends?... And what can they tell us about our Gen-Z consumers?

Marketing trends, like fashion and beauty,  grow and evolve and come back around as visual culture and language develops. Authentic connection and personalisation has been a pillar of communicating new trends and products on the global market for as long as we can remember. Speaking to the consumer personally, and filling spaces in their lives they didn’t even realize needed filling is our bread and butter as marketers. Using recognizable topics and iconography helps us speak to a consumer’s positive memories, in the hopes that they may come to associate them with our brands.

Put simply, this is nostalgia marketing. According to AdRoll, “Nostalgia marketing is the strategy of tapping into positive, familiar concepts from previous decades to build trust for new ideas and reinvigorate modern campaigns. In other words, it's a tactic of associating your company with something that customers already love and have fond memories of” (Tran, 2022). This is especially salient in the context of our post-covid world, after years of social distancing, loss of life and, for Gen-Z, loss of precious formative years among peers in classrooms around the world. For Gen-Z it has meant losing years of childhood.

In the fashion world, a similar gravitation towards childlike imagery is manifesting itself. Bows, frills, ribbons, and mary-janes have risen on runaways with the popularity of brands like Simone Rocha, Yuhan Wang and Sandy Liang, delivering the hugely popular aesthetic of “coquette” to the masses. On the surface, coquette can be defined as existing anywhere between baptism-core and Nabokov’s Lolita. It depicts a nostalgic yearning for girlhood, for a simpler time, perhaps in recognition of time lost. 

The trends we’ve been seeing since the summer reference elements that harken back to childhood over and over again. They are familiar and nostalgic: remember Cinnamon Toast Crunch? Flavoured milk? Jell-O? Remember when your biggest concerns were which game to play at recess and whether we’d be getting dessert after dinner? In the online world, getting consumers to see their childhoods reflected in trends and products has made for an extremely successful strategy. This past June, searches for blueberry milk nails went up 294% – making it a breakout search term on Google. On TikTok, the hashtag “blueberrymilknails” has almost 80 million views worldwide – and #cookiebutterhair has over 145 million.

From where we’re standing, the takeaway is clear: while food-inspired beauty is trending, don’t change your product, change your language. Tapping into nostalgia with a few key words can completely shift the way a product is received. But be warned: the path to the hearts of our Gen-Z consumers is a winding one. This generation has been exposed to more online content than any before them, which means that while brands get a direct line to even their youngest consumer, the latter may not be so easily persuaded. Our advice? Track trending hashtags and lean into the madness. Authenticity goes a long way… Okay, cookie time!