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Study: Chipotle tops limited-service restaurants among Gen Y

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
4. Chick-fil-A
5. Wendy’s
6. Burger King
7. Hardee’s
8. Qdoba
9. Taco Bell
10. Sonic

The top 10 results for surveyed consumers of all ages excluding Gen Y were:

1. Chick-fil-A
2. Dunkin’ Donuts
3. McDonald’s
4. Chipotle
5. Boston Market
6. Subway
7. Panda Express
8. Hardee’s
9. Wendy’s
10. Sonic

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."

Contact Alan Snel at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @AlanSnelNRN

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