Chipotle is the most preferred limited-service restaurant among Generation Y consumers surveyed in a new study by L.E.K. Consulting.
In May, L.E.K., a Boston-based global consulting firm, interviewed 1,300 consumers of all ages about their limited-service restaurant preferences. They focused on Gen Y — people ages 16 to 24 — since nearly 20 percent of Gen Y consumers buys a limited-service food item almost every other day. Less than half as many baby boomers, ages 45 to 64, purchase from those restaurants as frequently.
“As Gen Y’s purchasing power and [limited-service restaurant] spending grow with age, their loyalty today is critical to building a strong base of customers that can deliver the next generation of sales,” the study said.
The top five limited-service restaurants for surveyed Gen Y consumers were Chipotle, Panda Express, Dunkin’ Donuts, Chick-fil-A and Wendy’s. McDonald’s only ranked eleventh with surveyed Gen Y consumers, but was number three with all other generations interviewed.
Gen Y survey respondents ranked Boston Market twentieth, compared to all other ages, which rated the chicken-chain number five. Those Gen-Y respondents placed Subway at number 14, while all ages ranked it sixth.
The top 10 results for surveyed Gen Y consumers were:
1. Chipotle Mexican Grill
2. Panda Express
3. Dunkin’ Donuts
6. Burger King
9. Taco Bell
The top 10 results for surveyed consumers of all ages excluding Gen Y were:
2. Dunkin’ Donuts
5. Boston Market
7. Panda Express
Other key findings of the study included:
• Surveyed Gen Y consumers are more loyal to their brands. Gen Y is most passionate about their limited-service restaurant choices and ranked their preferred brands on average 12 percent higher than any other generation in L.E.K.’s Choice Conversion Score (CCS), a ranking that measures the strength of a brand’s connections with what consumers are seeking.
• Surveyed Gen Y consumers are less concerned with healthful and quality ingredients than other generations.
• Surveyed Gen Y consumers prefer Wendy’s and Burger King over McDonald’s.
Gen Y’s reliance on social media for quick, intense connectivity and the influence of their friends on restaurant preferences means limited-service establishments must be strategic in marketing to this age demographic, said John Weber, co-author of the study and vice president of L.E.K.
“You have your work cut out for you to change that [Gen Y] consumer’s perception,” Weber said. “Capturing them when they’re young is important to keep them in the pipeline for the future."