Teens prefer Chick-fil-A by a wide margin

The chicken chain has been increasingly dominant in Piper Sandler’s annual Taking Stock with Teens survey, which shows young people slowing their spending.
Photo courtesy of Chick fil A

The country’s teenagers are spending less money, but still prefer to spend it at restaurants, and their favorite chain remains Chick-fil-A, by a wide margin.

That, at least, is according to the latest “Taking Stock with Teens” survey by the financial firm Piper Sandler. The biannual report surveyed 9,800 teens in 48 states. The teens’ average age was 15.8, and 33% of them are employed part-time.

Overall, teens’ spending is down this year, to $2,150, according to the survey. That’s down 5% from the spring, and 9% from last year. It’s also the lowest level in the survey’s 20-year history, the likely result of a pandemic that has led to millions in job cuts and an overall reduction in spending.

At the same time, teens’ spending has been steadily declining since 2014, according to the survey.

Food is still the most popular item teens spend their money on, though that is declining. Upper-income males in the survey, for instance, said they spend 21% of their income on food, compared with 17% on video games and 16% on clothing. The spending on food is down 200 basis points since last year, according to Piper.

Upper-income females spend 21% of their income on food, too, but that’s second to clothing (27%).

Twenty-one percent of upper-income teens, and 15% of average-income teens, listed Chick-fil-A as their favorite brand, according to Piper. By comparison, 10% of upper-income teens, and 9% of average-income teens, listed Starbucks as their favorite brand.

Chick-fil-A has been the most popular brand among teenagers for the past four surveys and the company appears to be getting stronger. In the spring of 2019, for instance, Chick-fil-A was the most popular brand among 12% of upper-income teens and Starbucks was named favorite by 10% of upper-income teens. In other words, the gap between the two brands among wealthier teens has grown to 11 percentage points from 2 percentage points.

Rounding out the favorite brands among upper-income teens: Chipotle (9%), Dunkin’ (4%) and McDonald’s (4%). Among average-income teens McDonald’s was third (6%) followed by Chipotle and Olive Garden (both 4%).

Teens prefer limited-service concepts—69% said they preferred limited-service concepts compared with 31% who said they favored full-service, the same level as the spring survey. But that shift toward fast-food has been taking place for years: In the spring of 2009, for instance, 57% of teens said they preferred full-service restaurants.

Companies seeking to target teens through social media should consider TikTok: It is now teens’ second-favorite social media platform, following Snapchat, and has the third highest engagement, following Instagram and Snapchat. Teens’ overwhelmingly favor those three platforms—89% listed either Snapchat (34%), TikTok (29%) or Instagram (25%) as their favorite social media platform. No. 4? Discord, at 3%.

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