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Six percent of teens' wallet share goes to McDonald's, versus 3% two years ago.

McDonald’s wallet share doubles among teenagers in two years

Chick-fil-A remains the favorite brand for teenagers, while Olive Garden has made its way in the top 5.

There were few surprises within Piper Sandler’s semi-annual Gen Z survey released this week. The survey, which comes out each April and October, examines teens’ favorites brands, among other preferences.

Chick-fil-A remains teens’ favorite restaurant chain, according to the survey of more than 7,100 consumers with an average age of 16.2 years. The Atlanta-based chicken chain has been on top for these consumers for at least the past five years and currently generates 13% of their wallet share. That said, Chick-fil-A’s wallet share among teens was at 18% in both April 2021 and April 2022.  

Their second- and- third-favorite brands have also remained consistent – Starbucks and Chipotle – though it’s worth noting these two chains have jockeyed back and forth throughout the past few years. In April 2021, Starbucks was No. 2, with 12% of teens’ wallet share, for instance, while Chipotle moved to the second spot in April 2022, with 14%. Just one percentage point separated those two brands for both surveys.

This year, however, Starbucks leapfrogged Chipotle again and seems to have gained a stronger lead; Starbucks generated 12% of wallet share, while Chipotle is at No. 3, with 7%.

Another narrative from this most recent survey is that McDonald’s is gaining footing. In April 2021, McDonald’s was tied for fifth with 3%. Last spring, it moved up to fourth with 4%. This spring, the Golden Arches is still fourth, but now generates 6% of wallet share – doubling its spend among this demographic in just two years.

McDonald’s has made plenty of efforts to attract younger consumers since then, including its Famous Orders carousel that kicked off in 2020 with the Travis Scott Meal. The chain has subsequently driven traffic – and interest – with additional promotions such as the BTS and Saweetie meals, the Cactus Plant Flea Market collaboration and more. McDonald’s could keep this momentum going, as a recent Morning Consult survey found that the chain also appeals to Generation Alpha – those born between 2010 and 2024.

It’s also worth noting that Olive Garden has entered the fray among this demographic, coming in at No. 5 in the fall of 2022 and staying put this spring with 3% of wallet share. The No. 5 spot was previously held by Dunkin. Olive Garden has experienced several strong quarters recently, outpacing many of its casual dining peers on traffic and sales as it aims to keep prices lower. The chain’s limited-time return of its Never-Ending Pasta Bowl in October provided a major tailwind, and its full staffing levels have also driven strong guest satisfaction scores.

During parent company Darden Restaurants' most recent earnings call, CEO Rich Cardenas said, "Our data would tell us that our that we're getting a little bit younger than we were before COVID across all of our brands. That's somewhat driven by an increase in to-go business. But the great news is a lot of these folks had actually used us for to go for the first time and that's their first visit to us or actually starting to come into our restaurant too, so it was kind of a handshake to come in."

Another takeaway from the spring survey is that teens’ interest in plant-based consumption has fallen sharply since April 2021, when 49% of teens said they either consume or are willing to try plant-based meat. This is compared to 42% of teens now.

Overall, teen spending is relatively strong despite an uncertain macroeconomic environment. Piper Sandler’s spring 2023 survey shows a 2% increase year-over-year. Food remains the top spend category for male teenagers, at 24% share. These consumer surveys are important as younger generations swiftly gain a tremendous amount of spending power.

Teenagers’ wallet share, April 2021:

  • Chick-fil-A, 18%
  • Starbucks, 12%
  • Chipotle, 11%
  • Dunkin’ 4%
  • In-N-Out and McDonald’s, tied at 3%

April 2022

  • Chick-fil-A, 18%
  • Chipotle, 14%
  • Starbucks, 13%
  • McDonald’s, 4%
  • Dunkin’ 3 %

April 2023

  • Chick-fil-A, 13%
  • Starbucks, 12%
  • Chipotle, 7%
  • McDonald’s, 6%
  • Olive Garden, 3%

Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]

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