Starbucks, Chipotle, McDonald's among top food picks for teens: Piper Sandler

Teens have always loved their fast food, and a new survey shows just how much — with major chains topping the list. 

Chick-fil-A, Starbucks (SBUX) and Chipotle (CMG) are among the younger generation's favorites, followed by McDonald's (MCD) and Olive Garden (DRI), according to an expansive Piper Sandler survey. 

The “Taking Stock With Teens” poll was based on responses taken between August 17th and September 16th from 10,000 teens across 44 U.S. states, with an average age of 15.8 years.

Despite the growing competition in the chicken sandwich wars, Georgia-based Chick-fil-A — known for its chicken sandwiches since 1964 — was the top pick for 16% of teens asked by the firm for the fourth time in a row.

Starbucks came in at No. 2 for teens at 10%, down slightly from the spring, followed by Chipotle which tied with McDonald's at 5%. For the second time, Olive Garden came in as the fifth favorite with 4%. 

Previously, Dunkin' Donuts took the fifth spot in the previous survey, while Taco Bell earned that ranking last year. 

In general, food remained the most important category for upper-income male teens — capturing 21% — followed by clothing at 16% and video games at 14%. 

For females, clothing remained the top choice at 29%, up a whopping 200 basis points compared to last fall, followed by food at 21%, then personal care with 10%.

Overall, teen spending soared 6% compared to fall 2020, with the average teen spending approximately $2,274 dollars per a year. 

Impossible vs. Beyond

For the first time since the Spring of 2020, the environment ranked as the most important socio-political issue for teens, and fast food giants appear to be listening closely. 

Most recently, McDonald's announced a makeover for Happy Meal toys, which one executive called in line with the next generation of consumers who "care deeply about protecting the planet and what we can do to help make our business more sustainable."

Meanwhile, the plant-based protein market is slowly gaining young consumers' attention.

According to the survey, 14% of teens consume plant-based meat, down one percentage point from Spring of 2021, with Impossible Foods as the No. 1 choice for teens with 40%, followed by Beyond Meat (BYND) at No. 2 with 31%, then Kellogg's (K) Morningstar Farms capturing 22% of plant-based meat eating teens.

There is still lots more opportunity to grow however, of the 86% of teens who do not consume plant-based meat, 38% are willing to try it, slightly up from 35% in the fall of 2020. This comes as fast food giants are teaming up with the plant-based protein giants to introduce alternative protein options on their menus.

And beginning Monday, October 11th, Burger King (QSR) announced its plans to test Impossible Foods’ chicken nuggets in pilots in Des Moines, Boston and Miami. The eight-piece, plant-based, “clucking delicious” bites will be the chain's second Impossible Foods menu item.

The Impossible Whopper debuted back in 2019, and paved the way for other fast food giants to introduce meatless options including chains like KFC, Starbucks (SBUX), Dunkin' Donuts, Shake Shack (SHAK), and most recently McDonald's. The Golden Arches is cooking up its first ever plant-based burger, the McPlant, created with Beyond Meat in a strategic three-year partnership.

According to Alon Chen, Co-Founder and CEO of Tastewise, this is just the beginning for the plant-based market. He sees a "$14 billion opportunity over the next decade, where the question is not 'if' every foodservice business must offer plant-based alternatives, but 'when' and which technology will prevail."

Brooke DiPalma is a producer and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @BrookeDiPalma or email her at [email protected]

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