Chick-fil-A remained the No. 1 restaurant in the latest Piper Sandler twice-a-year “Taking Stock With Teens” survey, followed again by Starbucks at No. 2, the investment bank said Wednesday in releasing the spring 2021 poll.
Minneapolis, Minn.-based Piper Sandler Cos. said its 41st survey, conducted with the non-profit student organization DECA Inc., also found Gen Z teens cited racial equity and the environment as their top two social issues.
Digital platforms were strong in teen media consumption, found the survey, which polled 7,000 U.S. teens between Feb. 19 and March 24 in 47 states. The average respondent age was 16.1 years and 51% were male and 48% female. Average household income was $76.560.
“In the wake of COVID-19 and given these consumers are digitally native, we are not surprised to see online adoption at its highest ever this spring,” said Erinn Murphy, Piper Sandler senior research analyst, in a statement.
“Snapchat and TikTok are the top two social media platforms,” Murphy said. The survey found Snapchat remained No. 1 (31%) as the favorite social-media platform, followed closely by TikTok (30%). Instagram lost share as the No. 3 player.
Among preferred restaurant brands, Chick-fil-A and Starbucks remained in the Top 2 both for upper-income and average-income teens from the fall 2020 survey. Chick-fil-A has been the leader in seven consecutive surveys, or for three and half years.
For upper-income teens, Chipotle Mexican Grill ranked No. 3, Dunkin Donuts No. 4 and McDonald’s and In-N-Out Burger tied for No. 5. The tie was a change from the from the fall 2020 survey, when McDonald’s ranked No. 5 alone.
Among average-income teens, Chipotle ranked No. 3, McDonald’s No. 4 and Olive Garden No. 5. The fall 2021 survey had found preferred brands among average-income teens were: McDonald’s No. 3, Chipotle No. 4 and Taco Bell No. 5.
“Teen preference for limited-service concepts is now at 71% as of spring 2021,” said Piper Sandler analysts Nicole Miller Regan and Joshua Long in a note. “This is up substantially from spring 2009, when teen preference was anchored by the full-service segment and the preference for limited-service concepts was only 43%.”
The growth of delivery during the pandemic may impact future teen consumption patterns, the analysts noted.
“We can hypothesize a world where third-party-delivery platforms become widely embraced and democratize dining occasions (especially should dining room visits be permanently reduced post pandemic vs. historical periods) by encouraging teens to eat at a wider array of restaurant brands (namely full service),” they said.
“This along with a steady pipeline of culinary innovation could help the full-service segment regain a portion of its lost share preference,” the analysts noted. “However, it remains to be seen whether the preference for a lower ticket (which would typically favor the limited-service segment) wins out in the future.”
Among cuisine types, teens still overwhelming prefer traditional pizza brands, the survey said, adding that “traditional” is such concepts as Domino’s, Papa John’s, California Pizza Kitchen, Bertucci’s Pizza, Pizza Hut, Pizza Ranch, Cici’s Pizza, Little Caesar’s, Sbarro, Round Table Pizza and Papa Murphy’s.
“The traditional pizza category retains the overwhelming majority of brand preference among teens at 76% in the latest survey cycle,” the analysts said. “We believe this is reasonable given the size, scale, and overall awareness of these legacy pizza brands.”
Next Generation concepts like Blaze Pizza, MOD Pizza, Pie Five, Pieology, &Pizza, PizzaRev and 800 Degrees have made steady strides since the spring 2015 survey, they said.
“Looking forward, we believe the Next Generation category is positioned for continued growth and increasing share preference as overall access and awareness increases,” the Piper Sandler analysts noted.
The Piper Sandler analysts divided burger concepts into two categories: Legacy Hamburger and Next Generation.
“In the latest survey cycle, the Legacy Hamburger category retained approximately 87% preference among teens,” the analysts noted. “We believe this is reasonable given the size, scale, and overall awareness of legacy brands within the segment (anchored by McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s).”
However, they said Next Generation burger brands like Five Guys, Burger Fi, Freddy’s, Hopdoddy, Shake Shack, Smash Burger, Habit Burger and smaller regional chains have “garnered strong and relatively steady mindshare since the spring 2015 survey cycle.”
Among other topics surveyed were COVID-19 vaccination plans. The poll found 69% of teens planned to take the vaccine, up from 64% in fall survey.
Food was the No. 1 priority when it came to share of wallet spending, which 23% ranking it as the top category. Teen “self-reported” spending improved slightly to $2,165, up 1% sequentially, and the parent contribution to that was 61%, the survey found.
About half, or 49%, of teens either consumed or were willing to try plant-based meat with Impossible Foods as the No. 1 choice, followed closely by Beyond.
Piper Sandler, which began the teen survey project in 2001, said it has polled more than 201,800 teens in that 20-year period.
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