This is the 2nd insights digest from Segmanta’s brand new study, The Ultimate Food Survey 2020. We surveyed more than 2,000 U.S. consumers to understand their opinions surrounding their eating habits, lifestyles, fast food consumption, and favorite fast food restaurants, etc. 


2020 has been a year full of challenges for the fast food business. Major fast food chains have tried to distinguish themselves from each other while facing a tough situation in maintaining revenues with reduced foot traffic (and staff) during the pandemic. How to amplify the influence of fast food brands amongst Gen Z and Millennials has become a main strategic focus

We analyzed the survey results and highlighted the most popular fast food chains selected by Gen Z and Millennials in categories such as burgers, sandwiches, pizza, chicken, world cuisine, and snacks to better understand this competitive landscape. Each brand showcased its success through the declarative opinions from the two generations.

The Gen Z and Millennials’ choices are as follows.


The “Big M” Represents The “Fast Food” Image

We asked “What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of ‘fast food’?” and “McDonald’s” was the most acclaimed answer for both Gen Z and Millennials. Clearly, the two major consumer groups are “lovin’ it”. Younger Gen Z (15-18 years old) eaters are the most passionate (57%) about McDonald’s burgers compared to other surveyed age groups. 

McDonald’s is also the go-to restaurant for Gen Z-ers and Millennials who define their “food personality” as “emotional eaters” (56%). We also saw similar trends in our previous study on Gen Z-ers that tend to eat or snack out of emotional reasons

Other than being the No.1 burger brand, McDonald’s also left its marks in the snack (ranked No.2) and fried chicken (ranked No.4) market by the surveyed individuals. Last year, McDonald’s was the food brand with the highest value globally. The iconic fast food empire is still going strong and leading the game in multiple fast food categories. 


Chick-fil-a Wins The Game Of Chicken

Chick-fil-a was elected the best (55%) fast food chain for (fried) chicken by the majority of the respondents. Notably, older Gen Z-ers (19-24 years old) are 36% more likely to choose Chick-fil-a over the classic fried chicken brand KFC, 50% more likely over Popeyes. The Chik-fil-a lovers are 53% more likely to be from the Southern areas of the U.S., which is the home of the fried chicken cuisine. The recognition by the local eaters surely puts the brand ahead of the game.

During a taste-testing by Business Insider, Chick-fil-a, KFC, and Popeyes were judged by each of their signature chicken tenders, nuggets, chicken sandwiches, and side dishes. As a result, Chick-fil-a stood out with its master grade seasoning, juicy and crispy chicken, as well as their classic waffle fries. The premium quality of food and unique dishes are really what attracts Gen Z and Millennial customers.


Domino’s Pizza Stays Hot In Pandemic Times

Domino’s beat PizzaHut and was chosen as the favorite pizza restaurant by 50% of the overall respondents, with 60% of Gen Z-ers between 19-24 of age. 

Over the years, Domino’s has been investing and innovating in its delivery services – infusing technology with a seamless, multi-channel-ordering system. In an unprecedented era of global health crises, the pizza giant’s effort has finally paid off. 

Interestingly, we saw the majority (28%) of the respondents who love Domino’s describe themselves as “adventurous eaters”, meaning that they are keen on trying new food and appreciate creative food ideas, and certainly, welcome Domino’s tech-enhanced service quality.

In our previous article The “Knock n’ Run” Era of Food Delivery, we saw that many restaurants had to rely on contactless delivery services during the pandemic to make up for lack of dining-in customers. Many die-hard pizza fans might prefer local joints, but many restaurants were forced to shut down under the COVID-19 social distancing regulations. Domino’s pulled off an impressive turnaround when most of the hospitality brands suffered great loss in 2020.


Subway Leaps More Than Footlong Away From Competitors

Subway takes a big lead in the sandwich category, winning over 62% of the surveyed consumers. Amongst the respondents, younger Gen Z-ers certainly are huge fans (75%). 

Subway’s sandwiches always give customers the impression of “healthy fast food”. Today, the restaurant provides the option to turn any of their sandwich items into a salad, reducing the carbs but with sufficient food content to make the price worthwhile. 

According to our survey, amongst the individuals who prefer Subway, 68% claimed they are usually “picky eaters” (who have specific standards for their diets). Subway eclipses the competitors by not only offering healthier items compared to traditional fast food chains but also ensuring the dishes are of great value. 

Taco Bell Spices Up World Cuisine Fast Food

Americans are known for their cultural diversity and fast food is no exception.

In the survey results, 58% of the respondents said they like Mexican cuisine slightly more than American cuisine (56%). Overall, roughly 60% of respondents fancy Taco Bell, particularly teenage Gen Z-ers (63%). 

Another Mexican fast food restaurant, Chipotle, was ranked No.3 (40%), falling behind Chinese fast food chain Panda Express (47%). We also discovered that the people who chose Taco Bell are more likely to prefer the sweet (63%), salty (60%), and spicy (60%), compared to other flavors. 

The success of Taco Bell is not only from its fusion of flavors, but also the strategic marketing that has won over younger generations. What happens if Gen Z’s favorite snack and fast food chain merged into one? Earlier this year, Taco Bell and Cheetos together presented a “crossover” product – “Flamin’ Hot Doritos Locos Tacos”. The name sounds a little extreme, but as our previous study suggests, there is a strong correlation between extreme flavor lovers and Gen Z’s choice of food. According to Restaurant Business, Taco Bell is among the most motivated creative brands that continue to test new menu items and services to accommodate different markets. 


Dairy Queen Is The True Snack Queen

Dairy Queen was crowned the most loved fast food snack restaurant by 44% of the overall respondents, 51% amongst whom are  Gen Zers under 18 years of age. Additionally, DQ lovers are 70% more likely to consume fast food snacks more than 5 times a month compared to overall. 

In May 2020, Dairy Queen extended its classic “2 for $4” snack menu, including a huge collection of specialty ice creams and other frozen treats, aiming to offer a variety of snacks to comfort people’s snack cravings. 

Want to find your own insights?

In the survey, we discovered curious correlations amongst Gen Z and Millennials’ flavor preferences, “food personalities”, lifestyles, and their fast food consumption habits. To these two generations, brands nowadays represent more than just the quality of the products. Understanding fast food consumers’ expectations via declarative market research and brand-focused analysis are essential to today’s data-driven marketers.

Leverage Segmanta’s smart analytics/segmentation tools and explore more fast food affinities of Gen Z and Millennial consumers.