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Survey: Millennials rank restaurant chains higher than older consumers

Five Guys and Starbucks are among chains with the highest brand equity, The Harris Poll finds

Restaurant chains’ efforts to win over Millennial consumers are apparently paying off.

The large generation of mostly 20-somethings gave higher marks to restaurant chains than their older counterparts, according to the latest EquiTrend Study from The Harris Poll.

The annual study measures brand equity across a spectrum of industries with a poll of 100,000 consumers on more than 4,000 brands, including 90 restaurant chains.

Companies that scored highest in their respective categories included Five Guys, The Cheesecake Factory, Chick-fil-A and Starbucks.

“Restaurants continue to adapt to the Millennial lifestyle, and advancements in ordering methods, such as Starbucks’ mobile app and Chick-fil-A’s ‘Mom Valet’ are likely influencing Millennials’ higher brand equity scores,” Joan Sinopoli, vice president of brand solutions at The Harris Poll, said in a statement.

Restaurant chains have invested heavily in technology, such as mobile ordering, payment and kiosks, in part to win over a generation that has grown up using iPhones and social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook.

They’ve also worked to remove artificial ingredients from their menus and have emphasized fresher ingredients from local sources, also in a bid to win over younger consumers.

As a result, it appears Millennials are giving chains higher marks across the board. For instance, Millennials gave pizza chains brand equity scores that were eight points higher than Baby Boomers did. And they scored fast-casual Mexican restaurants 7.6 points higher than Baby Boomers did.

Millennials gave restaurants higher marks in all sectors The Harris Poll identified, including burger concepts, casual dining, chicken chains, coffee concepts, sandwich shops and ice cream places. 

But Sinopoli said chains should not forget about older consumers, especially the larger, wealthier Baby Boomer generation, which generally gave chains lower marks than Millennials or Gen X-ers.

“While the Millennial dollar is powerful and attractive — and many are clearly enjoying their rising disposable income — Baby Boomers already have the cash to spend on meals out and need to be courted,” Sinopoli said.

Among individual chains, The Harris Poll named Starbucks its brand of the year in the coffee category. The Seattle-based coffee giant narrowly bested three-time winner Dunkin’ Donuts.

The poll found that 11 percent of Millennials and 10 percent of Gen X-ers visit Starbucks daily. By comparison, 5 percent of Millennials and 1 percent of Gen X-ers visit restaurants daily.

Among burger chains, Five Guys bested In-N-Out Burger, which won the previous two years, as well as Shake Shack, Culver’s, Whataburger, McDonald’s, Sonic, Smashburger and Steak ‘n Shake.

Five Guys has grown from a “small regional player” into a national chain with a large footprint and a bigger marketing budget, Sinopoli said, “which is a tremendous contributor to brand equity.”

In the Mexican category, Moe’s Southwest Grill finished on top for the second year in a row, besting Chipotle Mexican Grill. Chipotle led the category from 2013 through 2015. Its brand equity took a major hit in 2016 following a series of foodborne illness outbreaks

The good news for the Denver-based burrito chain? Its score this year improved by 4.8 points. But the company hasn’t yet fully recovered from last year’s decline.

Other winners included Papa John’s, which topped the pizza category; The Cheesecake Factory, which won the casual-dining segment; Chick-fil-A, which led the chicken category for the fourth straight year; and Subway, which has won the sandwich category for seven straight years.

Contact Jonathan Maze at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @jonathanmaze  

TAGS: Marketing
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