McDonald's Makes Gains With Teens As Their Spending Doubles In 2 Years

Teen consumers are highly valued by food chains, for reasons that are not very difficult to fathom. Not only are younger consumers noted as trendsetters, for instance, but their brand loyalties, once established, can be very long-lasting.

Investment banking company Piper Sandler's twice-yearly survey of teen preferences has thus become something of a bellwether in terms of how Gen Z feels about the top fast food and fast casual chains and a forecasting tool for how these chains are likely to market themselves to increase their share of this coveted demographic. For instance, the increasing emergence of digital ordering options like kiosks and the presence of plant-based meat options on restaurant menus have been two areas of focus for food chains in recent years. Perhaps not coincidentally, both have dovetailed with teen preferences noted by surveys.

For several years now, Chick-fil-A has dominated Piper Sandler's surveys as teen consumers' favorite food chain. So the chicken chain's continued reign as the top-ranked food chain in Piper Sandler's recently released 2023 spring survey should not come as a surprise. What is a surprise, reports Nation's Restaurant News, is that McDonald's has doubled its teen spending market share since the 2021 spring survey.

How McDonald's is marketing itself to teens

The top five food chains as rated by teens in Piper Sandler's most recent survey were Chick-fil-A, Starbucks, Chipotle, McDonald's, and Olive Garden. For McDonald's, which is the leading restaurant chain in U.S. sales to finish fourth on a list of teen favorites may not seem like a big win. But given that it doubled its teen "wallet share" from 3% in 2021 to 6% in 2023, per Nation's Restaurant News, the latest survey suggests significant gains in terms of this key demographic.

Has McDonald's done anything different recently to court Gen Z? One notable change is McDonald's increased presence on Snapchat and TikTok, including a Snapchat campaign contemporaneous with its McPlant burger launch in 2022, and high-profile hiring campaigns on both Snapchat and TikTok. Not coincidentally, these just happen to be the top two social media platforms among teens, per Piper Sandler's spring 2023 survey.

Another key takeaway from the most recent Piper Sandler survey, at least from a food perspective, is the slightly waning interest in plant-based protein among teens. According to Nation's Restaurant News, the percentage of teens favorably inclined to try menu items like Burger King's Impossible Whopper or Carl's Jr.'s Beyond Burger declined marginally from 49% in the 2021 spring survey to 42% in the most recent polling.