The smear campaign against Chick-fil-A has been a colossal failure, as demonstrated by its continued financial success. A recent poll provides more evidence of just how much the campaign against the food chain has failed: It’s doing surprisingly well with an unexpected demographic, teenagers.
According to the latest Taking Stock With Teens survey from Piper Jaffray, Chick-fil-A has actually surpassed Starbucks in popularity among middle-class and upper-income teens.
Restaurant Business Online notes that the spike contrasts with a 2010 study showing Chick-fil-A was barely in the Top 5 in the demographic. Just last year, the company enjoyed a full 14.2% total sales growth.
The survey canvassed 8,600 teens at an “average age of 16, 36% of whom are employed part-time,” with roughly three-quarters reporting an “average household income of $56,000.” Roughly 2,400 teens reported an average household income of $102,000.
The overtly progressive Starbucks has long enjoyed being one of the top-rated restaurant brands among teenagers. In 2011, the coffee chain even surpassed McDonald’s in popularity for that demographic. How could Starbucks be losing transaction growth in the U.S. while Chick-fil-A overtakes it?
“They’re just pushing everybody out,” Piper analyst Nicole Miller Regan told RBO. “Either [teens] gravitate a little away from caffeine or dairy in the drink, or there’s a lot of competition when it comes to tea-based drinks.”
The change also coincides with surveys showing that teens focus more of their spending on food instead of clothes: 24% to 21%. In 2014, teens reported that food was their top spending priority.
“They’re spending more on food than on clothes,” Miller Regan said, noting that they prefer “experiences over things.”
Changes, of course, begin to occur with age differentiation. While teens overwhelmingly favor limited-service restaurants like Chick-fil-A, millennials in their 20s tend to favor full-service restaurants with waitstaff.
“Three of the top five chains cited by millennials, for instance, have waitstaff: Olive Garden, Texas Roadhouse and Buffalo Wild Wings,” reports BRO. “None of the top five chains among teenagers are full-service restaurants. After Chick-fil-A and Starbucks, the top five chains for average income teens include McDonald’s, Chipotle and Taco Bell.”
Miller Regan said the change in taste shows that consumers begin to favor experience as they age. “As consumers age, [their preference for] experience over things gets amplified,” she said. “Sitting down, socialization become much more important.”
Earlier this year, Chick-fil-A was crowned America’s number one fast-food chain for the third year in a row in the 2018 American Customer Satisfaction Index’s Restaurant Report, beating out notable names such as Pizza Hut, Arby’s, Taco Bell, and Subway.
The Atlanta-based chain has only seen its popularity climb following the attack campaign in response to CEO Dan Cathy expressing support for traditional marriage, which culminated in city mayors trying to ban them from doing business. Just this year, two major publications wrote scathing articles begging people to boycott the business: The New Yorker and Huffington Post.
“If You Really Love LGBTQ People, You Just Can’t Keep Eating Chick-fil-A,” wrote Noah Michelson of HuffPo.
When Chick-fil-A wanted to set up shop in New York City, Dan Piepenring of The New Yorker called it a “creepy infiltration” of the city.